In the mid-1970's many believed John McLaughlin had committed commercial suicide by abandoning electric instruments and Western sensibilities in favor of an all-acoustic group with Indian musicians. In fact, record sales for this group, Shakti, were quite disappointing. Sometimes though, a musician has to follow his muse. In this case, McLaughlin was led to create a very fertile groundbreaking group in the form of Shakti. With all due respect to the very fine group Oregon, Shakti was really the first band to truly capture the essence of what we now call "World Music." Shakti's dependence on Eastern musical models infused with Western jazz-like improvisation made for an exciting and influential stew.
One doesn't have to look very far into McLaughlin's past to see why such a band would appeal to him. His own inclinations toward Eastern music can be heard on side two of his earlier recording My Goal's Beyond
. Certainly, he was influenced even before that outing by the pop mysticism of the times and his own involvement in seeking self-realization through Eastern philosophy. (Not to mention, of course, his study of Indian music.)
How ironic that 20 years later, a band different from the original Shakti but born from its spirit should emerge to find commercial success. And how ironic that McLaughlin should now turn to the timbres of an electric guitar and forego the sublime sounds of his acoustic approach. Remember Shakti
is the name of the new group as well as its first live album. The 2 CD set recorded over four nights in England in the fall of 1997 features the two founding fathers of the original Shakti, McLaughlin and the tabla master Zakir Hussain. One of India's most respected musicians, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, provides an integral voice as a member of this group for these several concerts. Most enjoyably, Shakti's original ghatam player "Vikku" Vinayakram helps to serve the rhythm.
McLaughlin plays a Johnny Smith electric guitar for these outings, held in honor of India and Pakistan's 50th anniversaries. The electric guitar and haunting bansuri flute give Remember Shakti a very different dynamic than the acoustic guitar and violin of the great L. Shankar had given Shakti. Both instruments allow for long sustained notes that can carry the listener away.
The tunes here tend to be very long and require attentive listening. Two McLaughlin standards, "Lotus Feet" and "Zakir," are present. The guitarist's beautiful and uplifting tune "The Wish," which appeared on The Promise,
also gets the special treatment. Chaurasia appears, sans McLaughlin, on the opening self-penned tune "Chandrakauns"; his "Mukti" features him trading lines with McLaughlin. Remember Shakti
is reflective, serious East-meets-West music. It is not without some hilarity howeverVikku's laughter can be quite contagious. It is also not without some truly virtuoso moments and plenty of drama. The deep tones of the electric guitar and the bansuri flute float above the percussive groundwork. A bass-like drone provides sub-surface support.
(Note: If you enjoy Remember Shakti, it's absolutely imperative that you obtain Zakir Hussain's 1987 record Making Music.
On this predecessor to Remember Shakti,
Hussain joins with McLaughlin, Chaurasia and Jan Garbarek in a simply dizzying display of East-meets-West improvisational mastery).
Related link: John McLaughlin Reviews @ All About Jazz .