The Ageless Raga

Peter Walker — Long Lost Tapes, 1970 (Tompkins Square, 2009)

source:tompkinssquare.comPart of the small record store experience, for me, is to hear whatever the clerk is playing. Aquarius Records, in particular, always has something interesting spinning, and that’s how I found this Peter Walker album — a set of shimmering, single-chord psychedelic spots laced with jazz implications, Indian influence (tabla), and a laid-back kind of intensity.

I didn’t know about Walker before, but his revival in the public eye was a recent project of the Tompkins Square label. He’d recorded two influential psych/raga albums in the late ’60s, then vanished into regular life but continued studying guitar and eventually picked up an interest in Flamenco music. You can trace the steps in a fascinating Dusted Magazine interview.

It’s a 1970 recording that’s very 1970-sounding. (Walker even lives in Woodstock, N.Y., and recorded the session at Levon Helm’s house there — with Eddie Offord, of early Yes fame, engineering.) The opening “Meditation Blues” has Walker’s guitar pacing through the usual psychedelic tricks and twangs of the time, like a friendlier take on the climactic Doors music in Apocalypse Now. He’s paired with just drums and tabla, the latter from Badal Roy, who played with Miles Davis.

That’s a sparse piece. It’s followed by “Camel Ride,” and later “Missing You,” which have more of a full-band feel, including bass and Mark Whitecage (whose name carries free-jazz cred today) noodling on the flute. Perry Robinson, another known jazz quantity, appears on clarinet for the almost pastoral jam “Mellowtime.” Mystic floating-with-the-universe singing comes in on “102nd Psalm:” “I’m like a pelican of the wilderness. I’m like an owl of the desert.”

source:tompkinssquare.comTompkins Square convinced Walker to let these tapes get dusted off and shined up for public listening. None of the six tracks goes even eight minutes, but you still get the feeling of long, spacious journeys here. It’s a followup to the label’s A Raga for Peter Walker, which included four new ragas by Walker and like-minded contributions from other artists including Thurston Moore. As for the Flamenco stuff, you can hear it in the 2008 album Echo of my Soul (samples available here).