Ananda Shankar

A Life in Music: Best of the EMI Years

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To most of the West, Ananda Shankar is most familiar for the records he made at the beginning (1970's Ananda Shankar) and end (2000's Walking On) of his recording career, which were the only ones to gain relatively wide distribution outside India. However, Shankar did continue to record fairly often for EMI India in the interim. That period is well represented by this overdue two-CD compilation, which draws from seven of his Indian albums between 1975 and 2000. On most of these instrumental recordings, Shankar pursued what has been generally, though pretty accurately, classified as an East-West fusion of sorts, melding sitar and traditional Indian music and instruments with rock and funk arrangements and modern recording technology. Often that's a recipe for disaster, or at least cheesiness, but Shankar usually managed to make it effective. On the earlier tracks in particular, there's often a lagging-behind-the-trends psychedelic funk feel, with unpredictable but galvanizing shifts between Indian-flavored melodies/rhythms, careening synthesizers, wah-wah guitars, acid jazz organ, dancing cinematic strings, and a quite hard-charging solid rock-influenced beat. From a 21st century perspective, these sound at once dated and futuristic, stuffed with quasi-psychedelicisms that some would consider passé, yet run through a blender in a way that has no obvious counterpart on more familiar American and European recordings of the period. Some other selections tilt more toward the Indian "music overlaid with modern beats and production" style, and are both more conventional and less impressive. The best half or so of this compilation, however, is quite dynamic, and makes a case for Shankar as one of the ablest and most balanced fusioneers of Western and Eastern forms.

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