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John McLaughlin and Frank Vignola: Guitar Masters on DVD

Jerry D'Souza By

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John McLaughlin and Frank Vignola present different approaches to the guitar and the music they subscribe to. McLaughlin has explored several musical idioms. He was the fire that ignited trumpeter Miles Davis's Bitches Brew (Columbia, 19690, and he found the soul of Indian music and gave it a prominent voice not only on his own recordings but also through the group Shakti. He is at home in jazz, blues, fusion, flamenco and the several streams that flow in the wide swath of Indian music. Vignola too plays within several genres and that includes jazz, classical and bluegrass.

The focus and the vision of these two players is radically different, and in that lies some of the joy of watching and listening to them.

John McLaughlin/Remember Shakti
The Way of Beauty
Sunnyside Records

The Way Of Beauty is a blend of documentary and concerts. "Sound Check" is an interview segment interspersed with clips of the band and McLaughlin in performance. He and tabla player Zakir Hussain speak at length about how Shakti was formed and how it evolved into the Remember Shakti.

Shakti played music that was new and different fusing both North and South Indian classical music with jazz. It was a bold move coming at a time when Indian music was little known in the west. McLaughlin together with Hussain (tabla), L. Shankar (violin) and T. H. "Vikku" Vinayakram (ghatam) turned the ears of the world towards a music that was not only culturally rich but was also vibrant and enchanting.

Shakti was a close knit unit with an empathy that found its outlet in the music. McLaughlin recalls how Hussain has a theory that the two knew each other in another life, that they were both from India and were part of the same family. But Vikku and Shankar were also integral to the make-up; each was a gear that meshed perfectly.

Time and circumstance took the members of Shakti on different paths. When the opportunity to reform the band came, Vikku was busy with his own projects and Shankar was nowhere to be found until the day prior to the band's tour. By then it was too late. Vikku's place was taken by his son V. Selvaganesh. U. Shrinivas, a prodigy on the mandolin, and vocalist Shankar Mahadevan came in later to complete the line-up that had evoved into Remember Shakti.

"Saturday Night in Bombay" is a 55 minute performance of the first Remember Shakti concert. The three tunes incorporate Hindustani and Carnatic music with jazz. The sonic pallette of the music is wider with a larger number of musicians and instruments. Shiv Kumar Sharma, India's leading santoor player, and Hindustani slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya fit right in. But that is the magic of the band, one that Hussain says will have greater momentum than Shakti did.

Two videos from Montreux, from 1976 and 2004, are welcome additions though the sound is not perfect.

Frank Vignola
Live At The Sheldon
Mel Bay

Vignola is influenced by Les Paul, Django Reinhardt and Bucky Pizzarelli and is clean, melodic and graceful. In Vinny Raniolo (guitar), Pete Coco (bass), Rich Zukor (percussion) and Aaron Weinstein (violin) he has a band which shares his calling. The musicians work in neat consonance on stage and as the interview segment shows, share an easy affability away from the spotlight. The evening they went in to perform at the Sheldon Concert Hall is captured on one DVD and two CDs.

The swinging "Salad and Donuts" and the bop tune "Luke," both of which have immediately appealing melodies, show Vignola's skills as a composer. Jazz gets a rich serving with Vignola and violinist Aaron Weinstein mining the melodic lode, swinging archly on the first and turning in a compelling drive on the second. Second guitarist Vinny Raniolo is no slouch either, and while his approach in terms of sound is different from that of Vignola, he sustains an impressive presence.

Classical music gets its resplendent due, no matter if it is Bach, Liszt or Rimsky-Korsakov. "Bach Partita #2 / Mozart's Turkish March" complement each other. The calming passion of the first gives way to the up-tempo flight of the second. The segue is characteristic of the band's approach to music, giving it an incandescent flavour. Rich Zukor, who plays the djembe and cymbals, keeps the rhythm true to the calling of the music here, but he takes a different turn on "Hungarian Rhapsody," on which he infuses jazz harmony on the djembe.

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