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Published: 2005/11/13
by Randy Ray

The Essential Ravi Shankar – Ravi Shankar

Columbia/Legacy 82876 71610 2

Hard to believe that it has been over 40 years since the Beatles first slammed into world consciousness with their sound of four Elvis Presleys focused on one goal: great melodic rock n’ roll music. The Beatles would evolve into a wonderful mixture of many different colors. The Eastern Group Mind of the boys from Liverpool developed when guitarist George Harrison discovered the sitarspecifically Ravi Shankar's sitar music. The East Indian’s art would shape the quiet Beatle’s sound and philosophy for the remainder of his life with Harrison going so far as to state that Shankar “is the Godfather of World Music.”

This collection is an excellent guide into the reasons why Shankar would become such a soul shape shifter during the critical mass conscious change of the 1960s. Young people were turning away from the destructive thoughts of the Western World and were bending externally towards many things whether they be books, films, pot, pills or the Holy Grail of mind expansion: LSD-25. Former Pink Floyd leader Syd Barrett may state otherwise in whatever dimension his mind now inhabits but acid opened an external doorway into an alternative universe that inevitably led to internal self-reflection. In Harrison’s case, he discovered Eastern mysticism and his songs swallowed the influence.

Shankar introduces this two-disc collection with “An Introduction to Indian Music,” which details the relation between their culture and improvisational music. Ragas are, essentially, jams that are anchored by a trance-like theme, which may include tablas, violins, cellos, sarods, sarangis and duggis during their ecstatic journeys. The first CD subtitled Out of the East, focuses on ragas and Shankar’s early introduction to western audiences in the ’50s and ’60s. The highlight is a 45-minute sequence that covers three epic ragas that toy with frets, percussion, rhythm and your mind.

I had at least two sticks of Nag Champa incense lit whenever I played this CD. This is intoxicating and slightly complex music that seeps into your pores, leaving you refreshed and buzzed with some sort of sonic narcotic that makes daydreaming an entirely different cinematic experience. In other words, it be very heady and trippy music, man. The second CD, Into the West, contains his more accessible and shorter Hindustani classical music recordings after his success in England, America and the Soviet Union.

This disc includes excerpts from the Gandhi and Chappaqua soundtracks — a film in which Shankar played the Sun God, poet Allen Ginsberg, the Messiah, and writer William Burroughs and jazz sax great Ornette Coleman played cameos. The disc also features his work with ex-Beatle George Harrison, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and an amazing ten minute piece played by the Philip Glass Ensemble that will lift the hair on your arms and neck, grab you from the pillows on the floor to ease your head next to the ceiling, and carry you back down amidst the sweet smells of the incense and the majestic strands of Shankar’s clever muse.

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