What makes the best music so good is that it resists pigeon-holing. In the store, this causes problems which is why many labels right on the back of their CDs tell the stocking clerk what category to put 'em in. At times, the perceived discrepancy between the actual music and this labeling can be hilarious but some kind of system is necessary if you expect your paying customers to find what they're looking for.

Take the 'New Age' moniker. Vapid space music? Droning synthesizers? Perhaps that's what it meant once but then 'Ambient' and 'Lounge' and 'Trance' and down-beat 'Techno' came along to once again erase clear demarcations. We'll use the 'New Age' label in an equally loose fashion and merely for the task of having one drawer to stuff things into.

Classic masterpieces: Øystein Sevåg, Randy Tico, Jamshied Sharifi, AsiaBeat
  • Øystein Sevåg - Bridge | Hearts of Space 11081-2 - Combines classical and WorldBeat elements in a highly original manner with impeccable musicianship and first-rate recording values
  • Randy Tico - Earth Dance | Higher Octave 7029 - A session bass player goes to town and creates highly sophisticated compositions with a cadre of like-minded instrumentalists
  • Jamshied Sharifi - A Prayer For The Soul Of Layla | Alula 1005 - African, Middle-Eastern and Trance elements combine atop dense rhythmic patterns for a neo-tribal Shamanistic journey
  • AsiaBeat - Spirit of the People | Kuckuck 11096-2 - Complex Indonesian percussion patterns anchor swirling and hypnotic soundscapes

Indian influences: Shafqat Ali Khan, Amitiva Chatterjee with Glen Velez, Paban Das Paul with  Sam Mills, Kayhan Kalhor & Shujaat Hussain Khan with Swapan Chaudhuri
  • Shafqat Ali Kahn | WorldClass 11310-2 - Heir to one of the most famous schools of Indian vocalists, Shafqat's US debut combines Ambient and soft Techno with ghazals and Sufi songs
  • Amit Chatterjee - Songs of Kabir | Interworld 809102 - Devotional bhajans with modern ambience
  • Paban Das Baul & Sam Mills | RealWorld 2367-2 - A Bengali Baul meets a UK drum'n'bass producer
  • Ghazal - Lost Songs of the Silk Road | Shanachie 64096 - Down-tempo trio meditations of vocals, spiked Persian fiddle, sitar and table exploring meditative overlap between Indian and Persian introspective traditions

More Indian: Sanjeev and Karuna; Salamat, Sharafat and Shafqat Ali Khan;The Sabri Brothers; L. Subramaniam
  • Sanjeev and Karuna - Inspiration Unfolding | TimeSquare 9016 - Mellow love poems in Urdu sung by a husband-and-wife team; unapologetically gorgeous and dreamy
  • Voices of Spheres | XDot 25 PM-1008-2 - A father and his two sons from the most famous vocal family in India sing meditative alaps over tasteful synth ambience
  • The Sabri Brothers - Ya Mustapha | Xeno 4041 - While it was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who popularized Pakistani Qawwali, it's the Sabri Brothers who maintained the tradition of ecstatic Sufi song
  • L. Subramaniam - Beyond | New Earth 3-931254-29-1 - The two central solo violin alap pieces are so transcendental as to defy descriptions - cosmic Bach from India.

Noveau Indian: Al Gromer Khan, Tulku, Jai Uttal, Sheetal
  • Al Gromer Khan - Mahogany Nights | Hearts of Space 11020-2 - Minimalist sitar meditations above synth ambiance dubbed Paisley Music by this Bavarian New Age sitar player born Alois Gromer
  • Tulku - Season of Souls | Triloka 314 558 007-2 - One of the best WorldBeat/New Age formations that combine traditional and modern elements in a very organic fashion; all three Tulku releases to date are equally accomplished
  • Jai Uttal - Beggars and Saints | Triloka 7208-2 - The uncontested prince of Kirtan, devotional Baul-inspired mantric songs to God but here in very modern WorldBeat settings - one of Jai's best ever releases
  • Sheetal - Love of Ages | Triloka 82039 - Her debut album which signals an artist of equal caliber to Deva Premal, with elements of Najma

Trance/Ambient, Trance Planet, HipHop Opera: Michael Shrieve, Michael Brook, Trance Planet, Aria
  • Michael Shrieve - Transfer Station Blue | Fortuna Records 023 - A classic drum-centric synth space trip in the vein of (and with) Klaus Schulze
  • Michael Brook - Cobalt Blue | 4AD 45002-2 - Another classic deep-synth lesson in aural hypnosis
  • Trance Planet | Triloka - A series of compilations like the popular Putomayos, albeit in the New Age/WorldBeat/Ambient sector and terrifically done every one of them
  • Aria | Astor Place 4009 - This and Aria 2 combine famous Operatic arias sung by real, not sampled sopranos and combine them with ambient/HipHop grooves for truly outrageous demo material

Two old classic, two new classics: Raphael, Tim Story, Bob Holroyd, Martin Tillman
  • Raphael - Music to Disappear in II - Hearts of Space 11023-2 - One of the best space-trippers by one of the genre's pioneers - combines synths with real violin and piano
  • Tim Story - Beguiled | Hearts of Space 11027-2 - Mysterious piano/ambient meditations from a real master
  • Bob Holroyd - A Different Space | 6 degrres 657036 1030-2 - Better than his follow-up, this is classic New Age/Ambient/Groove/Lounge material
  • Martin Tillman - Eastern Twin | Unitone 13702-5101-2 - Electronic cello in ambient soundscapes; even groovier than it sounds on paper and a true masterpiece

The mother of all compilations: Buddha-Bar
  • Buddha-Bar IV | George V - Often copied, never matched, this group of European DJs really got their finger on the pulse of what's hip, cool and groovy and though expensive, anything in this series is well worth the price of admission and will introduce you to artists you've never heard of before.

None of these recommendations fit the vapid, nebulous, artificial and shallow descriptions whereby New Age has degenerated in in many experienced listeners' minds. Perhaps that's because none of this is New Age per se? Wouldn't that be a hoot? So much for categorizations then.