ASHWIN BATISH; "Sitar Power"Batish Records - Many long time Santa Cruzans will remember the Batish India Restaurant for two reasons; the food was spicily satisfying, and that every once in awhile, it was possible to enjoy both the food and a spontaneous concert by a master sitarist. The sitarist; restauranteur Ashwin Batish.
Even then, as Batish performed selections of classical ragas, anyone familiar with the sound of other sitar players knew that there was something unusual about the man's approach to the instrument - something more fluid, more dynamic, more interpretive than most sitar recordings or performances.
Until the release of "Bombay Boogie" b/w "India Beat," first in seven-inch and then in 12-inch form, the memory of Batish's playing had to suffice for we admirers, as the restaurant had given way, foot by foot and table by table, to ever-larger tape-duplication and recording facilities. Then came the record, essentially sitar-led dico, and it swept through the dance-hall world.
It gained dance play and raves from two of the three most important dance-music groups in the country, San Frascisco's W.A.R.D. and New York's RockPool. It went Top 10 on a dance-oriented station in Connecticut. It generated hundreds of letters from independent dance DJs and renegade radio stations, asking for copies of the driving, thumping sitar-and-syndrum cut. Finally, requests for follow-ups convinced Batish to record an entire LP of sitar-dance material.
What does it sound like? Well, some of the songs sound like disco cuts in which the lead singers have been erased and replaced with sitars, sort of. Some feel like what might have happened had Giorgio Moroder been alive and active and in his current mindset several centuries ago during the development of modern classical Indian music, kind of. Some swingier and lighter tunes sound like what western swing music might have resembled had Indians from Bombay been brought in as cattle-ranch experts, and their music had bred with tumbleweed-folks. In short, the music on this "Sitar Power" LP is very evocative, and very difficult to describe.
There is one thing that can be said easily and clearly, though there have been a lot of Indian-sound-tinged recordings in the last couple of decades, with a bit of tamboura here or tabla there to spice up the grooves, and consequently labeled "fusion" by their artists or hypemasters. In reality, there are only a handful of the true East-West fusion projects of high quality and deep intent, as typified by the Shankar/Menuhin "West meets East" series.
Ashwin Batish's "Sitar Power" may be lighter in feel and less classical in its selection of pieces than some of the other, But it is a thorough and honest blending of some of the most charming characteristics of both musics, and is worth hearing if only because we'll probably never hear anything quite like it again - unless, of course, Batish releases another LP!