Are there certain pieces or discs that would constitute a good starter package for someone interested in exploring Indian classical music?
Not certain if this is exactly what you are after but I'd begin with Ali Akbar Khan, a master of raga and folk. Try "Peerless" or "Then and Now: The Music of the Masters Continues."
And of course, there's Ravi Shankar, too.
Listen to Ali Akbar Khan play ragas on the sarod. It's like the sitar but deeper and richer. I like its sound better.
I don't know any particular disk to recommend but there should be some out there.
I can help! Rag Hemant Amsterdam- Nikhil Banerjee on Raga Records (CD) is a luminous sitar and accompaniment performance with you are there atmosphere and Alap/A Sarod Solo- Ali Akbar Khan on AMMP (double DC) ain't no slouch neither. Promise.
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This is the album that got me hooked. It is on Ali Akbar Khan's own label and is a reissue of the Connoisseur Society's release from the 60's. Rag Chandranandan is one of the most beautiful and powerful pieces of music I have ever heard. You will be hooked.