It's well-known that Ravi Shankar and George Harrison had a close personal relationship, Shankar giving Harrison personal sitar instruction after the Beatle became interested in Indian music and religion in the mid-'60s. It's not so well-known that the relationship extended to collaborations, of sorts, on albums and concerts. The three-CD, one-DVD box set Collaborations is a limited-edition release, coinciding with Shankar's 90th birthday, with three of those albums, as well as a DVD of a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1974. Without downplaying the closeness of the two musicians' friendship and Harrison's genuine participation in all of these projects, it should be stated up front that this is much more Shankar's music than Harrison's, and much more Indian music than the rock for which Harrison was most famed. Harrison's primary role in these albums -- 1974's Shankar Family & Friends, 1976's Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India, and 1997's Chants of India -- was as producer, though he did play some acoustic guitar on Shankar Family & Friends, and several instruments on Chants of India, and he does introduce the Royal Albert Hall concert.
As a bountiful gathering of some of Shankar's more accessible recordings, however, Collaborations has some value not just for Beatles completists, but also for more general appreciators of traditional Indian music. Shankar Family & Friends actually combines the work of Indian classical musicians with contributions of some Western jazz and rock musicians, including Harrison, Ringo Starr, Tom Scott, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, and Billy Preston. It's the least artistically successful of the discs, however, the blend sometimes sounding forced and, more surprisingly, occasionally sappy, the more traditional pieces coming off best. Harrison was inspired to produce Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India after hearing an orchestral composition Shankar did for All India Radio around the mid-'60s, and which has more of an ensemble feel than many of Shankar's recordings, as it features more than a dozen Indian musicians, including a good number of vocalists. This results in a more diverse group of arrangements than is heard on many Indian recordings, though the mood is largely one of devout humility interspersed with some low-key, joyful boisterousness. Although the title of Chants of India might lead one to expect it to be the most traditional and serious of the group, in some ways it's the most approachable; the arrangements are sparse, and the instruments and vocals have a serene glow that does not veer toward piety.
Unfortunately, some footage from the September 23, 1974 concert featured on the DVD has been lost. There's still about an hour to be seen, however, on the disc in this package, filmed in basic but competent style. A large group of musicians, and some singing, is featured in this performance of traditionally oriented material, Shankar not only playing, but sometimes conducting. A more complete audio-only version of the concert, lasting a little more than an hour and a half, is also on the DVD, along with an inessential eight-minute bonus feature about the mixing of the concert for this box set. Also in the box is a 56-page book with photos, and notes by Harrison and Shankar.