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Shakti With John McLaughlin - The Believer CD (album) cover


Shakti With John McLaughlin


Indo-Prog/Raga Rock

3.58 | 14 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Nice Sampling of Indian Music and Virtuosic Guitar

John McLaughlin's involvement in the early multi-cultural group Shakti was a revolutionary convergence of different Indian music traditions with flavors from western jazz fusion. In the late 90's early into the 2000's, McLaughlin reformed the group with one other original member (tabla player Zakir Hussain) and other prominent Indian musicians in a group appropriately named Remembering Shakti. It is appropriate that the name is different, for this group's sound, though similar to Western ears, has quite a different musical approach.

The original Shakti employed much more composed pieces with planned melodic themes which not only made the music more accessible but also more focused. The new group really is an improvisational format and not surprisingly the group's recordings are essentially live. The Believer is the second formal album from the group, with McLaughlin joined by a Indian mandolin player (already a hybrid sound) with a second traditional Indian percussionist.

The sound is very musically interesting and all the players' level of virtuosity is simply mind- boggling. The level of interaction between the musicians also eclipses virtually any blues or jazz jams you hear by Western groups. Indian drumming is such a more nuanced science than European playing, and the percussionists' freedom to call and respond, lead and follow, equals the lead instruments during the long improvisations found on the disc.

Shakti went to great lengths to try to vary the sound between songs, sometimes to a fault. At times, they would do more standard vocal tunes that sounded like soft jazz to the point of background music. Remembering Shakti never does this, both for the good and bad. For the good, this is intense music that demands close attention to appreciate. For the bad, the lack of melodic themes specific to each song makes the disc get a little same-y by the time you're finished. Though each song has a slightly different feel to begin, eventually all evolve (or devolve) into free improvisation.

McLaughlin himself sounds mature to be kind, less hungry and on the edge of his seat than he was in the 70's. At the same time, his speed is if anything more intense than ever. This translates to a number jaw-dropping passages and occasional not very inspiring scale running. The best times are when McLaughlin and the mandolin player (U. Shrinivas) weave in and out between each other, forced to maintain a tighter focus. Shrinivas plays a five string, single course version of the instrument, and it sounds more like a high strung guitar than the mandolin most of us are used to hearing. His chops easily match McLaughlin's but as I've observed in many such settings, the elder musician shows a bit of musicality that the youngster has yet to master. In the end, there is no doubt this is McLaughlin's show. By contrast, he was but a popular hook in Shakti, the learner himself rather than the leader.

Having seen Ravi Shankar live, this is quite a left turn from truly traditional Indian music though still grounded in the tradition. I would have loved to see this music performed in person. (There are some youtube videos that are quite good) On recorded format, I enjoy listening to it and return to it not infrequently when in the right mood. There are much higher peaks in the genre, and I really only recommend this disc once one has explored the realm a bit more. Of course, if you were fortunate enough to have seen the group live, this is a great representation of what you must have experienced.

Negoba | 3/5 |


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