Prepare to immerse yourself in the enchanting sounds of Indo Jazz. With its mesmerizing amalgamation of Indian classical music’s rich traditions and the improvisational spirit of jazz, Indo Jazz has birthed a treasure trove of remarkable albums over the years.
We will uncover here for you the 10 Best Indo Jazz Albums that have captivated audiences and pushed the boundaries of musical expression. From the soulful melodies of Indian ragas intertwining with the grooves of jazz rhythms to the spellbinding improvisations that transcend borders, each album on this list represents a unique fusion masterpiece. So let’s delve into these extraordinary albums:
The Best Indo Jazz Albums
Improvisations And Theme From Pather Panchali
(World Pacific Records)
Ravi Shankar is globally revered as the best sitar player. This album, Improvisations, released in 1962, displays his improvisational skills and his thorough understanding of Indian classical music: both of these are the key factors behind his ability to spellbind his listeners.
With sophisticated sitar melodies, brilliant improvisations, and perfect rhythmic control spread throughout four long tracks, you will be enchanted. He ventures into the numerous moods, tonal subtleties, and rhythmic complexity of ragas.
Kanai Dutta and Chatur Lal’s flawless timing and musical chemistry are seen in the interaction between Shankar’s sitar and the tabla accompaniment they played. One of the best representatives of Indian classical music, “Improvisations” solidifies Ravi Shankar’s legacy as a timeless masterpiece.
Ravi Shankar: sitar; Bud Shank: flute; Dennis Budimir: guitar; Gary Peacock: bass; Harihar Rao: percussion, sitar; Louis Hayes: drums; Kanai Dutta: tabla; Nodu Mullick: tambura
Release date 1962
The Joe Harriott Double Quintet Under The Direction Of John Mayer
Acclaimed Harriott-Mayer duo presents Indo Jazz Suite with clear proof that it is possible to blend two widely different genres into a piece of music that sounds mesmerizing at the same time retaining their distinct flavors.
In Indo Jazz fusion it is fairly common to pair tabla and sitar with saxophone and piano. This album from 1967 solidifies why that is a recipe for epicness. Hauntingly beautiful alto-sax and melancholy sitar will put the listeners in a state of trance. The distinctiveness of each instrument encapsulates the cultural identities that each of them belongs to.
Joe Harriott: alto saxophone; John Mayer: violin; Pat Smythe: piano; Chris Taylor: flute; Diwan Motihar: sitar; Keshav Sathe: tabla; Coleridge Goode: bass; Allan Ganley: drums; Chandrahas Paigankar: tambura; Kenny Wheeler: trumpet, flugelhorn
Release date 1966
Birds of Fire
Mahavishnu Orchestra, led by none other than John McLaughlin, is one of the most influential supergroups in the world Indo-Jazz, or jazz fusion in general. Each member of this group has made a big name of their own. Birds of Fire is the second album from this globally revered group.
John McLaughlin proved again and again on each track why he is the greatest fusion guitarist. His melodic ideas along with the complex and intricate songwriting of all the members are awe-inspiring, to say the least. The opening track, “Birds of Fire”, is considered a classic in the world of fusion music.
This might be the only album on this list that has influenced jazz artists–like Pat Matheny–as well as metal bands–like Opeth–alike.
“Music is born out of the inner sounds within a soul; all the music that was ever heard came from the inner silence in every musician.”
John McLaughlin: guitars; Rick Laird: bass; Billy Cobham: drums, percussion; Jan Hammer: keyboards, Moog synthesizer, Fender Rhodes; Jerry Goodman: violin
Release date January 3, 1973
Shakti With John McLaughlin
Shakti is undoubtedly one of the best fusion groups out there. Natural Elements bears proof of that. From start to finish it is jam-packed with surprises and hooks. The melodic lines and rhythmic flow will keep you on your toe throughout the album.
John McLaughlin’s Indian classical-influenced fast jazz solo, Lakshminarayana Shankar’s virtuosic and masterful violin playing, and Ustad Zakir Hussain’s unparallel tala on tabla are bound to mesmerize any avid listener for years to come.
As Zakir Hussain is from the north region of India and the other Indian members are from the South, Shakti fuses Hindustani and Carnatic music traditions along with Jazz.
After this album listen to A Handful of Beauty, another masterpiece by Shakti.
Zakir Hussain: bongos, dholak, percussion, tabla, timbales, triangle, vocals; John McLaughlin: guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals; Lakshminarayana Shankar: viola, violin, vocals; Vikku Vinayakram: ghatam, kanjeera, percussion, vocals.
Release date 1977
Anoushka Shankar, daughter of Ravi Shankar, is a sitar player. She has had nine Grammy Awards nominations and performs across multiple genres and styles.
In Rise, she incorporated jazz, and pop along with her sitar expertise rooted in traditional Indian music. In this album, She has embellished her tracks with her voice as well.
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, on Veena, and Rajendra Prasanna, on Shehnai, were more than impressive on this album. “Prayer in Passing”, “Red Sun”, “Beloved” and “Voice of the Moon” are exquisitely crafted songs that stand out among others.
Anoushka Shankar: sitar, keyboards, vocals; Vishwa Mohan Bhatt: veena; Rajendra Prasanna: shehnai; Barry Phillips: cello; Pedro Eustache: bansuri, duduk; Ajay Prasanna: bansuri; Pedro Ricardo Mino: piano; Pulak Sarcar: keyboards; Kevin Cooper: bass guitar; Jesse Charnow: drums, percussion; Tanmoy Bose: djembe, tabla; Sanjeev Chimmalgi, Ritesh Mishra, Rajneesh Mishra: backing vocals
Release date September 27, 2005
Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa
From American jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and American jazz saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the album Raw Materials will have a huge appeal to both Jazz and Classical listeners.
Iyer’s classical-ish playing supports Mahanthappa’s South Indian-influenced melody perfectly throughout the album. Combination of wild and impassioned playing screams of their personality and uniqueness with noticeable influences from jazz greats.
Listen to “Forgotten System” of this album and you will immediately understand the point I am trying to make here.
Vijay Iyer: piano; Rudresh Mahanthappa: saxophone
Release date May 23, 2006
Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide-Guitar Odyssey
Debashish Bhattacharya an Indian guitarist, developed his own Hindustani slide guitar style which teems with uniqueness and creativity.
The sounds of a small slide ukulele, an Indian harp, and an ektara appropriately brings out the cultural and historical imagery of Calcutta. Debashish Bhattacharya doesn’t shy away from incorporating blues, Afro-Andalusian rhythms, and Hawaiian flavors in his arrangements.
Bhattacharya has taken Indian music to a whole new path by crafting his own slide guitars to match the nuances of Indian classical music. This album is a testament to that.
Take a deep dive into this album and you will find yourself on a journey from Hawaiian beaches to the bank of Ganges.
Debashish Bhattacharya: slide guitar; Subhasis Bhattacharya: tabla; Sanjeevan Acharya: ektare; Camila Celin: rhythm guitar; Swati Biswas: tambura
Release date 2008
Miles From India
Ever wondered how pieces by Miles Davis would sound on classical Indian instruments? Behold “Miles from India”! This album is here to enthrall you so much that you would question what you thought fusion was. This album is a prime example of what fusion is about.
Performed by a pantheon of legendary Western and Indian musicians who pay a fitting tribute to Miles Davis by arranging twelve of his pieces in a spectacular fashion. This album has everything from traditional tabla, saxophone, sitar, flutes, and piano to exotic instruments like djembe and kanjira.
Miles, himself, might have been enchanted, as you are bound to, by this album.
Release date 2008
U.Srinivas is called the Mozart of Indian Music, and this is quite fitting for this Carnatic mandolin player. He is considered to be a child prodigy.
Srinivas has quite a charm in his playing which looks as good as it sounds. Impeccable virtuosic techniques accompanied by an insane knack for complicated yet digestible melodic and rhythmic ideas. Indian classical music has a tradition of improvisation, and he is a natural improviser.
In this album, he has worked with other excellent and remarkable artists like John McLaughlin, Debashish Bhattacharya, Zakir Hussain, and others. Listen to this album, and it will become one of your top 10 favorite albums. Particularly the track “River Song” is my all-time favorite. I would urge you to listen to his other albums and watch him play in concerts, it would be worth your time.
U. Shrinivas: mandolin, electronic mandolin; Debashish Bhattacharya: slide guitar; George Brooks: saxophone; Zakir Hussain: tabla; John McLaughlin: guitar; U. Rajesh: mandolin; V. Selvaganesh: kanjeera; Vikku Vinayakram: ghatam
Release date 2008
Vijay Iyer With Prasanna & Nitin Mitta
Jazz, Indian classical music, and improvisation are expertly merged in this ground-breaking fusion album Tirtha by Vijay Iyer, Prasanna, and Nitin Mitta. This intriguing collaboration, which was released in 2011, demonstrates the trio’s skill and capacity to maneuver the intricate rhythmic structure of fusion music.
The dynamic interaction of Prasanna’s hypnotic sitar melodies, Iyer’s accomplished piano playing, and Mitta’s rhythmic tabla talents. The music pushes the limits of conventional fusion music with complicated improvisational dialogues and avant-garde harmonies which is evident from the very first track, “Alap.”
The production of Tirtha is also something to admire, the nuances of each instrument are both immersive and exhilarating.
Vijay Iyer: piano; Prasanna: guitar, voice; Nitin Mitta: tabla
Release date February 25, 2011
Part of our Best Jazz 2011 selection
10 Best Indo Jazz Fusion Albums
- Ravi Shankar – Improvisations And Theme From Pather Panchali (World Pacific Records)
- The Joe Harriott Double Quintet Under The Direction Of John Mayer – Indo-Jazz Suite (Atlantic)
- Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire (Columbia)
- Shakti With John McLaughlin – Natural Elements (CBS)
- Anoushka Shankar – Rise (Angel Records)
- Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa – Raw Materials (Savoy Jazz)
- Debashish Bhattacharya – Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide-Guitar Odyssey (Riverboat Records)
- Various – Miles From India (4Q)
- U. Shrinivas – Samjanitha (Disques Dreyfus)
- Vijay Iyer, Prasanna, Nitin Mitta – Tirtha (ACT)
You will find here a Spotify playlist with a selection of 20 tracks from the albums listed above and 10 others that should also be considered as the Best Indo Jazz Albums.