Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Indian Classical Music (2014)

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Ravi Shankar: Devgiri Balawarl Dhun
Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Indian Classical Music (2014)

Elsewhere makes judiciously considered entries under its Essential Elsewhere albums, and we avoid the obvious (no compilations, greatest hits and so on). Those are easy options and anyone with a laptop could pull together a serviceable, if only ordinary, "essential" collection.

You could probably even do that for fairly obscure artists like Popul Vuh and Solomon King.

But our Essential Elsewhere albums like to go a little deeper.

However, for our money there's never been a better, more intelligent, inclusively enjoyable collection of Indian classical music than this Rough Guide brought together by DJ Ritu (no idea who he/she is).

It is exceptional (in a difficult field) and your learning curve and pleasure begins with this collection.

And of course when the Rough Gude series gets on the case they add another disc, in this instance an exceptional bonus disc by the great Debashish Battachyra.

41L20o9jj0LIt is his Calcutta Slide 3 which Elsewhere has already hailed.

When it comes to “world music”, download sites are awash with crossover music or new takes on old forms.

But this introductory collection to the complex but compelling art form that is Indian raga is unimpeachable: You can't argue with a selection which includes the late Pandit Ravi Shankar (on a sprightly dhun); santoor master Shivkumar Sharma; legendary father and son tabla players Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain, sitar virtuoso Vilayat Khan . . .

As a single-disc introduction – which travels from bite-sized sitar music to santoor displays then into violin players to vocalists – this could hardly be bettered.

Especially given the Sharma track Ahir Bhairav comes from the cornerstone and Essential Elsewhere album Call of the Valley album from '67 with flute player Hari Prasad Chaurasia and guitarist Brijbushan Kabra.

And the dueling Rakha/Hussain piece is a heart-racing live recording from a rather rare album of tabla music (which I am privileged to have on very battered vinyl).

This is important (but, better, enjoyable) album and – aside from the 17 minute Raga Chhaya Nat by sarod player Amjad Ali Khan at the end – the average time of the pieces is a digestible seven minutes.

As we've said, Essential Elsewhere doesn't do short cuts: but The Rough Guide to Indian Classical Music (which even as a fan I would not have dared attempt) is an extraordinarily smart introduction with short but pointed explanatory notes, and a bonus disc which is a standalone gem.

A budget-priced double set which is an Essential Elsewhere album, especially if you've never ventured into Indian music before.

If you are looking for the door or even ambient Indian behind the dinner party, this is IT.

Exceptional. And  ........ essential.

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