Gabor Szabo: Jazz Raga (Light in the Attic)

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Gabor Szabo: Ravi
Gabor Szabo: Jazz Raga (Light in the Attic)

Originally released in 1967 -- the Beatles' Norwegian Wood which used sitar was on Rubber Soul, released late '65, and folk guitarist Davy Graham employed Indian tunings prior to that -- this album by Hungarian-born US-based jazz guitarist Szabo saw him pick up sitar for a series of short pieces which explored the sound and possibilities of the instrument, but not the long form of the raga as the title suggests.

Szabo acknowledges that he had initiallly dismissed the Beatles --- until he heard Yesterday andd Michelle -- and so turned his ear to the world of pop which was just discovering the sitar and a trippy kind of pop.

He went into the studio in August '66 for two sessions, the first with bassist Jack Gregg and drummer Pretty Purdie, the second adding electric guitarist Bob Bushnell and tabla player Ed Shaughnessy.

The result was jazz raga which included their version of the Stones' Paint It Black, an acknowledgement of Ravi Shankar in the track Ravi, and versions of Ellington's Caravan and the standard Summertime.

The music certainly swings when required and Szabo was fully focused, and through overdubbing sitar in places created a unique if not entirely successful fusion of the instruments. Paint It Black sounds a little tame and plodding these days, and Walking on Nails with sitar and drone vocals may owe a little to Donovan as much as the cod mysticism it advances.

But the best pieces here are striking: Krishna is a sprightly rocking piece which marries his jazz background with the vibe of the time; and Raga Doll is lovely piece whhich seems as much Latin as Indo-jazz.

And if anyone isa looking for a retro-theme to a happenin' pop show on television they should go no further than Comin' Back . . . Pete Sinclair or Austin Powers would groove to it.

So not quite the ground-breaking work that, for example, Joe Harriott and John Mayer did in '66-67 in the same Indo-jazz terrritory, but an enjoyable album from a master guitarist who was at least looking beyond the obvious.

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