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Jazz Looks East

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 10:34 AM

In the 1980s, the term “world music” began to gain currency, as Western listeners began to hear more music from other parts of the world.  This happened through the agency of some high-profile rock stars:  David Byrne, Paul Simon, and Peter Gabriel, for starters.  But jazz musicians got there first. 

Ravi Shankar, the great Indian sitarist, has said that when he first came to the West, in the 1950s, it was largely the jazz fans who took notice.   And in the 60s, a number of jazz musicians began looking eastward, perhaps inspired by the burgeoning spirituality and African-directed gaze of artists like John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, etc.

With Charles Lloyd joining us in studio today, it reminds me that my first exposure to this master of the sax and the jazz flute was in the early 80s, when I discovered his late-70s release Pathless Path – a mix of improvisation, electronics, and sounds from Japan and India.  So, in the interest of giving the forward-looking jazzers their due, here’s a half dozen albums that show just how wide a net they were casting, in the decades before world music became fashionable. 

Tony Scott: Music For Zen Meditation.  A groundbreaking effort from 1964 by one of the prominent jazz clarinetists of the 50s.  Clarinet with Japanese shakuhachi (flute), or koto (zither), or both.  A spare, and yes, meditative collection that predates “ambient” music by at least 15 years. 

Paul Horn: In India & Kashmir.  From 1968.  Self-explanatory title; the globetrotting jazz flutist who would later record bestselling solo improvs in the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramid teams up with Indian classical musicians. 

John McLaughlin: My Goals Beyond.  1970 album by the English jazz guitarist was dedicated to his teacher, Sri Chinmoy, and heavily influenced by Indian music – especially the two long group improvs on side 2.  (See kids, the old LP had music on both sides – you had to flip the thing over to hear the full recording.) 

Oregon: Distant Hills.  1973 album from a quartet that would go on to a long and distinguished career incorporating Indian sitar and tabla (in the person of the late Collin Walcott) into their own pensive style of jazz. 

Herbie Mann & Minoru Muraoka: Gagaku & Beyond.  Woefully underrated 1976 album featuring bestselling jazz flutist and band with young, traditionally-trained but Western-looking Japanese ensemble and, on one memorable track, a troupe of Zen Buddhist monks. 

Charles Lloyd: Pathless Path.  Even here, working with Japanese koto and Indian tabla, Lloyd shows his knack for picking young talent to accompany him: Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock in the 60s, a young Mark Isham (best-known now for his many film scores) on piano here in this 1979 release.  A Zen-like, atmospheric collection. 

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