Speaking of global themes recently, I find myself today in India! Though this one had me fooled for a moment as it sounds very much like a Mulatu Astatke track!!
This glorious piece of music was released in 1970 on EMI’s multi-national subsidiary label Odéon and is the title track to a three track EP entitled Raga Rock. The artist behind this mysterious and intriguing sinuous saxophone-driven melody is Indian saxophonist, Braz Gonsalves. Considered as one of the of the great saxophonists of India and one of the outstanding musicians of contemporary jazz in Goa, Gonsalves’ musical training began in the church choir and on the violin.
Gonsalves trained in Indian classical music and worked first as an entertainment musician, before becoming one of the pioneers of indo jazz rock. He has played with many great musicians over the years, which include the likes of Charlie Byrd, Eddie Daniels, Sadao Watanabe and Paul Gonsalves, but also with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shankar Maha devan and Siva Mani.
His debut release, recorded in Calcutta (1970), was the aforementioned Raga Rock record, but most of what he recorded was run in small quantities on Indian-only 45’s and the chances of finding anything original is about as slim as you can get – in fact, I’ve just checked out a site and one listing is selling Raga Rock for over £2000!!!!
Luckily the track was issued on Jazzman’s 2014 on a compilation, Spiritual Jazz 5: The World, so if you fancy a copy, you can always grab one here! I’ve just been reading the liner notes to the original 45, which you can check out below! Listen above.
“It’s all very well to blow the sax and churn out decades-old pop-numbers in smoke-filled security of restaurants and night clubs and it’s quite another, Braz-style, to explore the nuances of Indian raga on his tenor sax. “Raga Rock” is an experiment and an invocation based on the Todi Rags. Braz likes to do things differently – he does his thing with two saxes – the alto and the tenor -in “Down the Rock Bay…”
These bands played a mixture of styles: post-bop, soul, funk and raga-based jazz. But because India’s recording industry was focussed on film music, very little of Gonsalves’s work from that time was actually preserved on wax. The tunes on the 45s he cut were probably picked as much for their commercial appeal as much for the creativity they display. Despite this, they present a glimpse of dynamism and originality that characterised the Indian jazz scene in the 1960s – and of the abundant talents of Gonsalves.”