Ananda Shankar

2001

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When going through his recordings, there is no doubt that Ananda Shankar was a visionary. One need only go back to his Reprise recordings from 1970 to come to that conclusion. But 2001, recorded and released, appropriately enough, in 1984, is a masterpiece. Shankar had long been marrying rock, funk, exotica, and Indian classical music. Here his transitions from one musical style to another are not so much seamless as they are completely simultaneous. All styles playing at once, integrating into a cosmically heady, funky, spiritual stew that is as heavy on musical virtuosity as it is atmospherically mind blowing -- and body rocking. Check the opener "Explorations" that is introduced by flutes and strings before the entrance of electric bass, synth, a trap kit, and finally, his deadly sitar going right for the heart of the riff. By the time the tables kick in just ahead of the breaks and the bass goes down into the sub-fuzz zone, the listener is transported: to where is questionable, but wherever it is, it's blessed out. Italian soundtrack music from the best of Morricone's spaghetti western scores intrude and jump alongside the pulsing strings as the sitar bites right into the heart of both riff and melody simultaneously. By contrast, "Universal Magic" is a blessed out piece of Indian easy listening that is madly tripped out, full of more space than a Piero Piccioni soundtrack record on full stun. Indian folk themes are wed to Western notions of the "exotic," as cimbaloms, mohan vinas, and flutes all swirl around one another as tablas and a drum kit play right into the deep cellar bassline. And then it changes and becomes its own version of Ghost Riders in Nirvana, chugging and slipping ever forward. Other stone burners are "The Voyager," which brings heady Middle Eastern music into the mix as Egyptian pop meets funk and groove. The tranced-out hypnotic groove in "Vibrations" is loaded with strings and synth, hand drums, and beautiful shenai as the sitar weaves them all together. "The Alien" has become a classic because of the breakbeat samples that have been lifted from it. In sum, this is one of Shankar's finest efforts. This is not a recording that can merely be written off to novelty. It is as adventurous and complex musically as anything one is likely to come across. Though you may listen to it a hundred times, it will never cease to enthrall, inspire, and even amaze you.

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