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Various Artists: The Raga Guide, A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas

Hindustani music of North India is among the most sublime and complex examples of classical traditions the world over, with an elaborate system of rules and improvisational structures with centuries-old roots. Its heady backdrop doesn’t keep new listeners from sinking into meditative admiration of the music’s naturally sensuous and spiritual allures, as its popularity in the west over the past few decades has proven. But learning about the fundamentals of the venerable tradition can only enrich one’s appreciation of the music.

To that end, proceed to the fascinating and valuable new package, The Raga Guide, A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas (Nimbus 5536; 78:36, 79:08, 79:21, 77:06), a concept album that serves an educational end, while also soothing the ear and mind. All this in a tidy yet comprehensive package that includes 4 CDs (roughly five hours of music), a 196-page booklet with explanation of terms, transcriptions in both Western and Indian notations, and an exotic set of 17th century paintings in the Rajasthani tradition.

The goal here is a primer in the rudiments of the music, played by masters: flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia, sarod player Buddhadev DasGupta, vocalists Shruti Sadolikar-Katkar and Vidyadhar Vyas, and a host of tabla players. By its piecemeal nature, this sampler of raga forms fails to go very deep in terms of improvisational expansion of the basic materials, but still, its sonorities resonate and its generous spirit prevails. It can be taken as a lesson, or medicine for the soul.

Originally Published