Jazz Raga (1967)
Gabor Szabo

  1. Walking on Nails (Gabor Szabo)
  2. Mizrab [aka Rising] (Gabor Szabo)
  3. Search for Nirvana (Gabor & Alicia Szabo)
  4. Krishna (Gabor Szabo)
  5. Raga Doll (Gary McFarland)
  6. Comin’ Back (G. Szabo/C. Otis)
  7. Paint It Black (M. Jagger/K. Richard)
  8. Sophisticated Wheels (Gabor Szabo)
  9. Ravi (Gabor Szabo)
  10. Caravan (D. Ellington/J. Tizol/I. Mills)
  11. Summertime (G. Gershwin/D. Heyward)
  12. You Are My Sunshine (Davis/Mitchell)

Gabor Szabo – guitar, sitar (except 8), vocal (1, 3)
Bob Bushnell – fender guitar (1-3, 5, 7, 9)
Jack Gregg (as Johnny Gregg) – bass  
Bernard “Pretty” Purdie – drums
Ed Shaughnessy – tabla (2)

Produced by Bob Thiele
Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder
Liner notes by Nat Hentoff
Cover painting by Gabor Szabo

Recorded on August 4 (4, 6, 8, 10-12) and August 17 (1-3, 5, 7, 9), 1966, at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

1 to11 issued on LP in 1967 as Impulse A(S)-9128
7 (edit) and 8 (edit) issued on 45 as Impulse 45-257

East meets West, guitar meets sitar on this seminal 1967 Impulse Records jazz release…from the hype sticker on the 2010 CD release of Jazz Raga.

Jazz Raga is a brilliant, much-derided record featuring Szabo’s distinctive guitar and his overdubbed, slightly out-of-tune sitar playing. Too easily dismissed, this 34-and-a-half minute set contains some of Szabo’s best recorded guitar work: enchanting single-line runs mixed with jangled chords, repetitive riffs/drones and memorable, melodic solos.

Listeners either love it or hate it. This listener has always loved it. Singer/songwriter Beck – who is the son of David Campbell, arranger of Szabo’s final studio recording, Femme Fatale – put it this way:

‘[Gabor Szabo]’s a freaky jazz-guitar guy from the ’60s. Kind of corny psychedelic. Like there’s one album called Jazz Raga. Basically, he cut a record, then the next day he was in a shop and he bought a sitar. So he got all excited and just went and played sitar over everything. And he didn’t know how to play the sitar. The song starts out, doo-doo-doo-diddle kind of jazzy-guitar stuff, but then all of a sudden the sitar goes wah wah! It just sounds so fucked-up and good.’

Spin Magazine, August 1996

The mostly short-ish tunes include Szabo staples like “Mizrab” and “Comin’ Back” (Szabo’s set closer for many years) as well as such strong originals as “Krishna,” “Sophisticated Wheels” and “Ravi.” Each bring out Szabo’s ability to effectively express and compress strong musically melodic ideas.

Szabo’s take on “Paint it Black” isn’t as convincing as the truly cosmic “Caravan,” yet there is surely nothing like the acid-funk banger of his “Summertime,” where “the living is,” surely, “sleazy.” Gary McFarland, who contributed uncredited charts for the record, adds his tasty track “Raga Doll,” as clever a title as it is a song.

The core unit of Johnny Gregg (a.k.a. Jack Gregg, later in drummer Jack DeJohnette’s rock band Compost) on bass and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums contributes successfully to the real groove of the record – something new for Gabor Szabo. Guitarist Larry Coryell, Szabo’s hand-picked replacement in the Chico Hamilton group, was supposed to be on the record, too, but apparently he was “too late” to be included in the sessions.

Szabo is at once lyrical and and fiery on guitar, making Jazz Raga one of his finest six-string showcases. Even the odd-sounding sitar isn’t as obtrusive as is so often suggested: as far as “learning on the job” goes, Szabo proves he can easily charm any stringed instrument.

Jazz Raga, faults and all, remains one of Szabo’s more enjoyable and significant records.