GABOR SZABO — Jazz Raga (review)

GABOR SZABO — Jazz Raga album cover Album · 1966 · Exotica Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Sean Trane
It was inevitable that such a wide-ranging and far-reaching artiste like Szabo would eventually record for that awesome Impulse! label and Jazz Raga fits somewhat in with the world tendencies of the label. Indeed, JR is one of the best examples of Indo-jazz fusion alongside the London-scene stalwarts Amancio D’Silva and John Mayer. Out of the 11 tracks, five are recorded in a trio format, and the rest are in an expanded quintet with a second guitarist (to free up Gabor on sitar) and a tabla player. For the most part, the quintet tracks are concentrated on the A-side, while the trio tracks are the majority of the flipside.

All but three tracks were Szabo compositions, but it’s rather clear that the three covers would pull a lot of attention. Indeed, past an anecdotic (despite the quintet) Paint It Black, Duke’s Caravan and Gerschwin’s Summertime, the former receiving stupendous (then-) modern trio arrangements, the latter being more surprising with its sitar intervention. OK, now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at the meat of the album.

The opening Walking On Nails reflects a gentle-almost Beatles-like melody over a psychey sitar & drums and filtered vocals. Mizrab (named after the tabla player’s Indian moniker) is much more credible in terms of Indo-jazz fusion, precisely because of the tabla percussions. The Nirvana piece is an amazing upbeat guitar and sitar piece that will drive you bonkers, while Krishna will give you a happy serenity. After the delicate Raga Doll, Coming Back has a quasi rockabilly feel, which announces that Rolling Stones cover. Even wilder and more energetic, Sophisticated Wheels oozes more of a raga rock than a raga jazz.

Definitely one of Gabor’s best album in the 60’s and a milestone in the Indo-jazz fusion genre, Jazz Raga is not a typical Impulse! label product, and yet it’s a minor classic, even though its rock aura already announces the jazz-rock that will overtake the jazz world by the turn of the decade.

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