The Best of Shakti (Moment Records MRCD 1011)
John McLaughlin (guitar),
L Shankar (violin), Zakir Hussain (tablas and percussion), R. Raghavan (Mridangam), T.H. Vinayakram (ghatam and percussion).
Composed by John McLaughlin & L Shankar.
Recorded: South Hampton, NY, July 5, 1975
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
I am sure the fans in South Hampton on Long Island that night in 1975 had no clue what was in store for them when Shakti took the stage. After all, they had come to see the electric guitar God John McLaughlin, who had led the world's loudest band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Instead, McLaughlin and his new band, composed of Indian musicians, came on stage without any of the accoutrements needed for a big loud jazz-rock concert. McLaughlin was carrying an acoustic guitar instead of his electric axe. There was an acoustic violinist. And the percussionists had these Indian instruments that had to be unfamiliar to 99% of the audience. After a warm spoken greeting from McLaughlin, the crowd got a good dose of the future.
"Joy's" opening strains are incredibly speedy and intricate. McLaughlin and violinist L Shankar are linked at the hip. Shakti wasn't nearly as loud as Mahavishnu. But in some ways it was still as electric. Many fans had no clue that McLaughlin was just as great, perhaps better, on acoustic guitar. As fellow guitarist John Scofield once said (I am paraphrasing), "Nobody sounds like John McLaughlin does on acoustic guitar." If anything, his blazing speed was even more apparent on an instrument that did not have the sustain of an electric guitar. There are parts of this performance when you wonder why all his strings just don't break. It had taken jazz and rock fans a little time to get used to the violin in the jazz-rock Mahavishnu. Here they had to do it all over again. Except this time they had to get used to an Indian violinist melding the traditions of Indian classical music with Western jazz. The calls and responses between violinist L Shankar and McLaughlin are performed with breathtaking precision and speed. And what about the rhythms of the percussionists? Based upon the Indian cycles of the rag, or raga, they were foreign sounding to most Western fans. But it didn't take long to get caught up in their energy. Zakir Hussain and T.H. Vinayakram were master percussionists in their own country and musical culture. Now they were using that skill and status to help introduce a new jazz-fusion-Indian hybrid. Toward the end of this 18-minute tune, the feverish Indo-jazz head returns, to the raucous cheers of the new fans of Shakti.
Soon there would be world music and world jazz and world fusion. Well, this would actually come about a decade or two later. Being ahead of your time in music is great for posterity but not always so for your wallet. Shakti was unable to penetrate a strong commercial market the first time around.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky