Three Ragas

Artist: Ravi Shankar

Year: 1956

Genre: Hindustani Classical

Grade: A-

There was a time in the mid- to late-’60s when the Western world became obsessed with Indian music. For better or worse, there wouldn’t have been a psychedelic era without the sitar. And for that we can thank Ravi Shankar.

A direct inspiration on both John Coltrane and George Harrison, Shankar is widely regarded as the preeminent sitar god (or guru) of modern times. On his first recorded LP, simply titled Three Ragas, the young prodigy brings raw, passionate Hindustani classical music to a major label.

I’m not going to pretend like I know the principles behind Indian classical, but Shankar’s lengthy solo vamps over unchanging tambura chords do remind me a lot of the principles of modal jazz. But I won’t pretend like I know shit about that either.

On Three Ragas, you get all the best aspects of psychedelic music — drones, surrealism and trance-inducing atmospherics — bottled straight from the source. This is far from a novelty LP that can only be listened to when the mood is right; Three Ragas creates the mood.

The music sounds both infinite and ancient. “Raga Jog,” the 28-minute opener, is a cathartic release of minimalist expression that could be one thousand years old for all I know. It brings to mind contemplative images of deserts and jungles and skies and Pather Panchali. Or am I just describing my acid trip from a couple years back?

I think the real question is whether or not this should album should be grouped with Glenn Gould, Ralph Vaughan Williams and the rest of the Classical Check-Up. After all, this is technically considered art music. Is Shankar any further from classical tradition than Karlheinz Stockhausen?

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