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Shakti: This Moment

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Shakti: This Moment
It has been a while alright. 46 years have slipped by since Shakti's last studio album, but the band founded by John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain in late '73, is back to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The old road dogs could easily have marked the milestone by touring the back catalogue, and doubtless it would have been a roaring success, but it says a lot for McLaughlin and Hussain's artistic drive that they chose instead to write an album's worth of new material. Splendid stuff it is too. Instantly recognisable as Shakti, yet with fresh sounds, as one might hope and expect from such a pioneering band—the band that, as many would have it, invented World Music before the term was born.

In some ways, this version of Shakti is a stylistic hybrid of its two longest-running incarnations. Violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan—who joined in 2019—builds a bridge to the band's original sound, though his playing is perhaps less fiery and more lyrical than that of founding member Lakshminarayana Shankar. A long-standing collaborator with Hussain, Rajagopalan brings textural depth in sinewy unison lines with McLaughlin and vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, and solos with a profound lyricism. His keening intro to "Karuna" is heart-melting, but when he takes wing towards the song's end his playing is joyous. Mahadevan, who joined in the early 2000s, fulfils similar roles with disarming tenderness and soaring flights of jaw-dropping power that bring to mind the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Visceral percussion and intricately woven konnokol charges have been staples of Shakti's sound since the very beginning and This Moment is no exception. However, there is great conversational nuance in the exchanges between tabla maestro Hussain and V. Selvaganesh's ghatam and mridangam. In fact, conversation is the cornerstone of Shakti's music. Konnokol, which peppers these compositions, takes the form of two, three and four-part arrangements. ranging from gently playful chatter to electrifyingly intense exchanges.

McLaughlin toggles between electric guitar, guitar-synthesizer and, on the darkly hypnotic "Changay Naino," acoustic guitar. His light, flute-like tone on guitar-synthesizer imbues the music with emotive shading and painterly subtleties which are a little evocative of Miles Davis at times. McLaughlin is a sympathetic accompanist and his electric guitar forays, and there are several beauties, are typically biting. He may display greater economy than in his '70s guitar-hero pomp, but the fires clearly still burn.

Could it be that McLaughlin was thinking of Paco de Lucia when he composed the wonderfully cheerful, flamenco-tinged "Las Palmas"? One can certainly imagine the late flamenco guitarist revelling amidst the dancing rhythms, but it could also simply be a case of McLaughlin highlighting the threads connecting these great Asian and European musical traditions.

Musical highlights? They unfold from first note to last, the players flowing in and out in a seamless choreography which is, by turns, joyous, thrilling and moving. This should perhaps come as no surprise, even after all these years, for the power of Shakti is irresistible.

Track Listing

Shrini’s Dream; Bending the Rules; Karuna; Mohanam; Giriraj Sudha; Palmas; Changay Naino; Sono Mama.

Personnel

Shakti
band / ensemble / orchestra
Additional Instrumentation

Selvaganesh Vinayakram: kanjira, mridangam, ghatam, konokol; John McLaughlin: guitar synthesizer; Zakir Hussain: konokol, chanda, madal; Shankar Mahadevan: konokol; Ganesh Rajagopalan: konokol.

Album information

Title: This Moment | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Abstract Logix


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