Ananda Shankar ‘Ananda Shankar’ (Reprise, 1970)

In Ananda Shankar’s relatively short lifetime, the Indian sitar player was never afraid to push boundaries. He jammed with Jimi Hendrix in the late 60s and made a sitar-based hip hop record with State Of Bengal in the late 90s, shortly before suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of 56. Back in 1970, when raga rock was at its peak, he fused sitars with Moog synthesisers on his eponymous debut album, which is renowned largely thanks to his mind-blowing version of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.

The sleeve notes of ‘Ananda Shankar’ describe its creator as “a young man with a sitar and a dream” whose name “means peace and joy”. The album has become a word-of-mouth cult classic, and I first heard about it during an interview with the French musician David Sztanke, aka Tahiti Boy. I headed straight off in the direction of Discogs when our call was over, where I discovered that you can pick up a reasonable Reprise 1972 edition for £20, if you’re lucky enough. 

Shankar assembled his own wrecking crew with LA musicians including Elvis’ bass player, Jerry Scheff. Hendrix was originally supposed to be on board, though such a domineering virtuoso would surely have upset the delicate equilibrium that’s achieved here between sitar and Moog. 

The synth was played by Paul Lewison, a musician and sound engineer whose claim to fame was mixing The Beach Boys. Shankar had his own big connections too. The son of dancers Amala and Uday Shankar, he was also the nephew of a certain Ravi, though he apparently learned to play the sitar with Lalmani Misra. 

As well as ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, there’s a kitsch bossa fusion version of ‘Light My Fire’ which takes the José Feliciano version of The Doors’ classic and renders it three times more cosmic. But the real treasure is to be found in the Shankar/Lewison compositions. ‘Sagar (The Ocean)’ is a 13-minute meditation on the wonders of nature, while ‘Metamorphosis’ is perhaps the finest fusion of instruments from East and West, increasing trance-like with your own heartbeat as you listen.

The closing track, ‘Raghupati’ – the only piece with vocals – is a pan-religious arrangement of a traditional folk song with synth drones and spidery drum fills. Ananda Shankar, the young man with the sitar and a dream, did something remarkable by making music that will outlast us all. 

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