Groove Orient: South Asian Elements in Psychedelic Jazz

The late great jazz guitarist Pat Martino’s Baiyina (The Clear Evidence) resurfaced on vinyl this month. The album hadn’t been reissued since its first and only CD pressing in the late 1980s, and the original LPs are now rarer than hen’s teeth. Thankfully, the new edition retains the original album’s mildly hallucinogenic cover art; as well as its somewhat ridiculous strapline: A psychedelic excursion through the magical mysteries of the Koran. If the day-glo coloring and eastern spirituality didn’t place the album squarely in the middle of 1968, the transparent Beatles reference cinches it. Baiyina appeared about six months after Magical Mystery Tour, and exuded the profound anxiety of jazz’s displacement from the whole of youth culture. Outrageously, the 1960s counterculture presented a version of hip which, by and large, did not encompass jazz. And the electricity and paisley and mysticism that came to characterize jazz in the late 60s and 70s constituted, in no small part, its bid for inclusion.

The tabla beats and droning tamboura that opens Martino’s Baiyina situates us right in the midst of what Ravi Shankar called “the sitar explosion” in western music. But if Martino was as guilty as his rock contemporaries in using Indian instrumentation as an exotic shorthand for spiritual depth, he still managed to pull off a fantastic slice of soul jazz here. Indeed, what is wonderful about Baiyina is that the south Asian elements and spiritual pretensions do not suddenly turn Martino into a would-be acid rock divinity like John McLaughlin. He remains the nimble and spidery soul jazz groover he was on all those killer early Prestige cuts—under his own name as well as his work with Eric Kloss and Brother Jack McDuff. (And it is Martino’s clean, but thrillingly unpredictable guitar lines from this era that remain the ideal gateway drug for Deadheads looking to get into jazz.) The drones season the groove, but they do not overtake it.

Baiyina (The Clear Evidence) is an outstanding reminder that south Asian elements could do all kinds of work in sixties and seventies jazz. Their integration into jazz (and related forms like fusion and krautrock), whether superficial or substantive, did not necessarily signal an attempted raga. And they did not turn everything they touched into rarefied “spiritual” or “world” jazz. What follows is a compilation which attempts to set Martino’s work against the extraordinary variety of jazz experiments with Indian musical traditions and instruments in the 1960s and 70s—by south Asian, European and American musicians alike, often in exciting collaborations. Some of it still reeks of incense. But there’s all kinds of funky, soulful, exploratory and just plain weird stuff to be heard.

Hopefully, some of it is new and all of it is surprising. Miles Davis’s limpid “Yaphet” from the Bitches Brew sessions, for instance, does not resemble the dense and noisy integration of Indian instruments that characterized the On the Corner material a few years later. And one forgets how wickedly weird and funky Alice Coltrane’s cover of her late husband’s signature “A Love Supreme” gets in the middle. Perennial pop trend-chaser Herbie Mann makes an absolute monster out of an eastern-tinged Beatles cover. And the Oregon tune cooks way hotter than their proto-New Age meditations elsewhere might lead one to expect. The slinky smoke of Amancio D’Silva’s “What Maria Sees” is a necessary reminder that everything on his recently reissued ‘lost’ album Konkan Dance is an indispensable late-night burner. And don’t sleep on Volker Kriegel’s sitar playing on his own cut and with the Dave Pike Set. Remember, none of it has to be enlightening; it just has to sound good. | b sirota

Download: Groove Orient: South Asian Elements in Psychedelic Jazz

Volker Kriegel, “Zoom”
Pat Martino, “Israfel”
Herbie Mann, “Norwegian Wood”
John McLaughlin, “Peace One”
Dave Pike Set, “Mathar”
Oregon, “Sail”
Indo British Ensemble “Bhimpalazi (Looking Eastward to the Blues)”
Okko Bekker, “Painted Sails on Ganges”
Charlie Mariano, “Himalaya”
Embryo, “Dance of Some Broken Glasses”
Yusef Lateef, “Sister Mamie”
The Charlie Munro Quartet, “Malahari Raga”
Collin Walcott, “Scimitar”
Miles Davis, “Yaphet”
Abbas Mehrpouya, “Soul Raga”
Vasant Rai, “Spring Wind”
East New York Ensemble de Music, “Sun Flower”
Lloyd Miller, “Khamaj”
Amancio D’Silva, “What Maria Sees”
Dewan Motihar Trio, Irène Schweizer Trio, Manfred Schoof, Barney Wilen, “Sun Love”
Alice Coltrane, “A Love Supreme”

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