Richard Morton Jack Top Ten
In light of the new much bigger expanded Galactic Ramble – which is honestly one of the best music books I own (I actually have the older edition but am awaiting delivery of the new edition!) I asked Richard Morton Jack the editor of Galactic Ramble amongst many other things to do us a Top Ten!
Ten 60s / 70s albums with prominent sitar
Although many British albums flirted with Eastern Sounds in the 60s and you, not many featured the sitar throughout. Here are ten of the best
(Columbia SCX 6571) 11/74
Misleadingly sub-titles ‘the electronic sitar of Cleam Alford’, this late addition to the UK Into-Jazz canon effectively showcases the man on the earlier Sagram and Magic Carpet LPs (see further down the list…). Side one is occupied by the titles track, which also features Indian guitar wizard Amancio D’Silva. It’s slow to start, but eventually locks into a superb groove, with tight drumming and funky electronic piano spurring on the duelling sitar and guitar. Side two is closer to traditional Indian music, and not for fusion fans, but the LP will certainly appeal to admirers of Ananda Shankar, Okko and the like.
JOE HARRIOTT & JOHN MAYER
Indo Jazz Suite
(Columbia SX / SCX 6025) 4/66
Having pioneered free-form / abstract music at the start of the decade, in 1965 the great Jamaican-born altoist Harriott was paired up with Indian Classical composer-arranger John Mayer by the eminence rise of British Jazz producers, Denis Preston. The first of the three LPs they made together blends a standard jazz line-up with various Indian instruments to create a shimmering, exhilarating blend of styles.
THE INDO-BRITISH ENSEMBLE
(MFP 1307) 5/69
Although this appeared under a crass title on a budget label, it’s extremely well-conceived and performed, with jazzers including Kenny Wheeler, Jeff Clyne and Chris Karan melding Indian musicians on four mellow, gentle swinging tracks. Producer Victor Graham described the result as ‘happy exotic music’ on the back cover, which just about sums it up. It’s gratifyingly easy to find, too.
THE INDO JAZZMEN
Ragas & Reflections
(Saga FID 2145) 1968
Another budget LP, this isn’t as tacky as the nude model on the cover might suggest. Like Curried Jazz, it offers four long pieces arranged for both jazz and Indian instruments, and clearly takes its lead from John Mayer and Joe Harriot’s Indo-Jazz Fusions. It’s smooth and hypnotic stuff, and a must for fans of the style. Other than Tara Kapur (sitar) and Krishna Kumar (tabla), the musicians are uncredited, but they’re clearly seasoned players, and the tracks credited to ‘Isaacs’, indicating veteran guitarist Ike Isaacs.
Sound Of Sitar
(Deram SML/DML 1002) 11/66
The trend for all things occidental in 1966 led to a rash of ‘sitarsploitation’ records, effectively easy listening with sitar on top. This early Mike Vernon production was supposedly the work of ‘a young Ugandan virtuoso’, Chiman K. Kothari, and serves up hackneyed numbers like Winchester Cathedral, The Carnival Is Over and Strangers In The Night with decidedly average sitar on top. Unsurprisingly, the best cuts are his own two compositions, Barsaat and Bhigmangon Ka Mela. As Beat Instrumental commented at the time: ‘it’s a pity Mr. Kothari has had to be somewhat cheapened by the pops in order to bring his sitar skill to the ears of record buyers.’
(Columbia SX / SCX 6256) 7/68
This set of so-so orchestrated pop instrumentals was the subject of a mischievous marketing campaign encouraging speculation as to Lord Sitar’s identity, inevitably leading to rumours that he was George Harrison. In fact, it comes as no surprise to find that prolific man ‘Big’ Jim Sullivan (see elsewhere in this list) was responsible. He tackles hits by the Beatles, the Monkees, the Who and others (including producer John Hawkins and the ubiquitous Kim Fowley). The latter’s involvement gives a fair idea of the project’s integrity.
(Mushroom 200 MR 20) 6/72
Promo material called this ‘an Indo-European fusion which distills four diverse experiences into a timeless delight as universal as the sunrise’. That might be a little hyperbolic, but it’s a gentle, mellow and melodic set of ballads by the pure-voiced Alisha Sufit, with backing from Clem Alford (see elsewhere on this list) and tabla master Keshav Sathe. Sufit sings in an appealingly plaintive voice, and the songs are short and sweet, if a little repetitive. I certainly disagree with the grumpy Disc reviewer who called it “Yet another contrived Western sitar record, totally unreal, right from Alisha Sufit’s quavering, whining vocals to Clem Alford’s twinky-twanky sitar’.
(Columbia SCX 6462) 7/71
Yet another overlooked winner from Dennis Preston’s ‘Record Supervision’ stable, this rare Indo-Jazz concept album from the Indo-Jazz pioneer tells the tale of the milkmaid Radha’s passionate and jealous love for the god Krishna. Spoken narrative and quasi-operatic vocals are interspersed with superb instrumental sections featuring sitar, flute, tabla, double bass and percussion instruments. The uncredited band cook up some sublimely funky passages, as well as more pensive, classical moment, while the libretto packs in a striking number of references to breasts.
Pop Explosion Sitar Style
(Windmill WMD 118) 1972
This budget release is even more misleadingly-titled than leader Clem Alford’s subsequent Electronic Sitar LP. Though the cover pledges to deliver ‘the essential flavour of the instrument, with the heavy rhythms of the rock era’, it is in fact a straight collection of classical Indian pieces performed by Alford, with Jim Moyes (guitar) and Keshav Sathe (tabla). It’s a fine, intense LP – just don’t expect to have your mind blown. The sleeve – which depicts a droopy-moustachioed gent cross-legged in front of a hookah, being caressed by scantily-clad women – is a classic. As a final insult, it was issued without the trio’s knowledge, and their real name, ‘Sargam’, was rendered incorrectly.
‘BIG’ JIM SULLIVAN
(Mercury SML 30001) 1/68
Although ‘Little’ Jimmy Page is generally reckoned to have been the first British pop musician to own and play a sitar (well ahead of George Harrison), his fellow session man ‘Big’ Jim Sullivan wound up playing it on more British records than anyone else. This LP is a restrained instrumental collection of curry-powdered contemporary standards and originals, with a pinch of electric guitar thrown in here and there. The better tracks include the amiable, jazzy The Koan and droning Flower Power, but the best-known number is the funky, fuzz-tinged Tallyman (by Graham Goldman). It’s all played too safe to be called psychedelic, but is too good to be dismissed as mere exploito. There’s flute on most tracks, but the musician is sadly uncredited; I suspect Harold McNair.
Thanks a lot Richard!!
I highly recommend you purchase a copy here…