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John McLaughlin and Shakti: This Moment

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John McLaughlin and Shakti: This Moment
John McLaughlin was known for his work with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and with Tony Williams' Lifetime before forming his groundbreaking fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra. He then shocked people with his next project, John McLaughlin and Shakti, an acoustic fusion of the Carnatak music of South India combined with some Western influences. After three albums, he disbanded the group and went in different directions before revisiting the genre 20 years later in 1999 with Remember Shakti, for another five-year stint together.

In 2017, McLaughlin famously announced he was embarking on a farewell tour. The guitarist had talked about experiencing increasing arthritis in his right hand, which made it difficult to play his music. He eventually was able to solve the issue, through a combination of conventional medicine and meditation techniques. In an interview given to music journalist Mike Barnes to promote his May 2022 concert at London's Barbican Hall, McLaughlin explained, "I started by telling my hands how amazing they are and how grateful I am. I believe in the mind over the body, but you must persevere, you have to have faith, and I have been out of pain completely for the last three and a half years."

McLaughlin has now reformed Shakti for the album The Moment and will embark on a 50th Anniversary tour with them. The album contains all the hallmarks of what we've come to expect from Shakti and the personal musical changes an artist experiences over time exploring the intricacies of a complex form.

There are several tracks where McLaughlin plays a MIDI guitar. His last solo album, Is That So? (Abstract Logix, 2020), featured him playing his guitar through a MIDI interface to produce a wide range of orchestral tones and colors. The Moment opens with "Shrini's Dream." The song begins with McLaughlin's MIDI, which is reminiscent of some of the sounds Pat Metheny creates in his music. Here, it provides a backdrop before the scat vocals and Zakir Hussain on tabla enter. This is followed with solos by violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan and McLaughlin, before they run some duo riffs together.

"Bending The Rules" is a beautiful, soft, uplifting tune, featuring vocalist Shankar Mahadevan with his lovely scat and vocal musings. It ends with him and Rajagopalan performing complicated, synchronous lines together. "Karuna" continues in a similar vein, featuring a strong lyrical vocal. The percussionists lay down intricate rhythms before the violin and McLaughlin get to solo.

Giriraj Sudha is the centerpiece track on the album. It begins much like Joe Zawinul's "In a Silent Way." McLaughlin, who played on Miles Davis's recording of the piece, lays down a soft accompaniment, while Mahadevan vocalizes an Indian lyric, before the violin sings softly over the theme. About three minutes in, it segues into an up- tempo expression of joy where all involved get to participate.

"Changay Naino" and "Mohanam" are the two tracks most like the original Shakti. The former is heavy on vocals, percussion and violin, creating at times, a backdrop similar to The Beatles song "Within You, Without You." The latter focuses on the multi-percussion elements that underpin the Shakti sound. On this track and some others, the sound of the multi-percussionists evokes the sound (if you can imagine) of a talented pair of tap dancers, (like the Hines Brothers for example), tap-dancing on different acoustically-tuned floorboards. "Las Palmas" is a fast waltz that feels like a country square dance. The violin states the melody before the percussionists get to jam before returning to the theme.

Though McLaughlin has several solos on the album, for the most part he is content to create the foundation and atmosphere that allows his colleagues to shine and shine they do. Repeated listening shows an album of complex compositions and stunning virtuosity, tempered with sheer beauty. The production values might be a bit overdone but the sound is beautiful, with the tabla, percussion and vocal explorations out front on much of the record. The use of the MIDI guitar at times provides a slightly softer and more accessible (to Western ears) approach to the music, while never compromising the essence of the performance.

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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