Shakti: Mind Ecology
The Best of Shakti (Moment Records MRCD 1011)
John McLaughlin (guitar),
L Shankar (violin), Zakir Hussain (tablas and percussion), T.H. Vinayakram (ghatam, mouth harp and percussion).
Composed by John McLaughlin.
Recorded: Geneva, Switzerland, July 1977
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
"Mind Ecology" appeared on Shakti's swansong album for Columbia Records, Natural Elements, which was a whack at trying to get a few more Western listeners to dig Shakti. There was a bit less Indian vibe and a bit more Western tradition than on the band's previous two albums. The tunes were also substantially shorter in the hope for some radio airplay. In neither case did these new efforts succeed.
The hypnotic sounds of a reverberating mouth harp open up "Mind Ecology." I never knew that instrument was used in Indian music, but you learn something new every day. The harp stays in the background most of the time. Normally this type of music uses a drone (sruti) box for the traditional Indian accompaniment. But here the same result is reached by recording the harp as if part of an experiment in the Doppler Effect.
McLaughlin plays some real heavy chords on this cut. By the third album he had really determined the best times to strum the extra set of strings on the body of his custom-made acoustic guitar. He used the lush sounds from the extra strings as a backdrop for full chords and sky-reaching runs. There were no wasted hand movements with Mr. McLaughlin. It was just as easy for him to strike the strings on the way back as it was not to. You would think this technique could be overused. But it is not. The song's melody is a simple sing-songy riff between McLaughlin and violinist L Shankar. Some outstanding percussion supports funky blues-leaning solos from Shankar and McLaughlin. "Mind Ecology" is everything you expected from the cross-cultural Shakti at the time. It is a mix of fast and slow, deep and not so deep, intricate and funky, and sad and joyful.
Reviewer's update: The famous Gibson "Shakti guitar" has recently been refurbished, as pictured here. Its revolutionary extra set of strings across the body and scalloped fret board allowed McLaughlin to take a Western instrument and make Eastern music.
Reviewer's nostalgic story: The mouth harp used by T.H. Vinayakram in "Mind Ecology" pans left and right. At the beginning of the tune it is isolated for several seconds. The very first time I heard it I thought this would be the perfect introductory theme for a TV or radio news broadcast. They often used tickertape sounds, but this was so much more dramatic. Since I was working at my college radio station, WGAO at Dean College, I recorded the segment and put it onto a "looping sound cart." (We talked like that before digital.) Starting in 1979 it became the opening theme of the station's newscasts. I wish I had as much control over the media these days.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky