Shakti: Happiness Is Being Together


Happiness Is Being Together




Natural Elements (Sony Records SRCS 7016)

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John McLaughlin (guitar),

L. Shankar (violin), Zakir Hussain (tabla and percussion), T.H Vinayakram (ghatam and percussion)


Composed by John McLaughlin


Recorded: Geneva, Switzerland, July 1977


Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

As I write this review, John McLaughlin's Floating Point stands nominated for a Grammy as 2008's Best Contemporary Jazz Album. That CD is a West meets East electric fusion affair. Notice I wrote West meets East and not East meets West as you might normally read. McLaughlin gathered Indian musicians to play Western jazz fusion for the album. For decades these Indo-fusion experiments have come from the opposite direction. Western jazz musicians have dabbled in jazz influenced by Indian classical conventions. One of the problems with McLaughlin's commercial career is that he always seemed to be a few decades ahead of popular taste. Could the world have finally caught up to him? We'll see. But Shakti is a perfect example of McLaughlin's previous dilemma. As's Ted Gioia recently wrote, "Coming on the heels of McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Shakti opened up the ears of many jazz-rock fans to sounds they had never before, and helped set in motion the commercialization of 'World Music' as a marketing category." The irony is that Shakti itself did not benefit commercially from that movement.

The original Shakti's last album was Natural Elements. Shakti was East meets West. Natural Elements was by far the most accessible recording the group put out. Tunes were short and full of hooks. "Happiness is Being Together" sounds like it reads. It is a joyful romp of strummed chords, soaring Indian classical violin, Indian percussion and "La, La, La" vocals. McLaughlin's ethereal guitar solo captures the wonder of a new morning spent together with loved ones. It does not matter if you live in Boise, Chennai or Rio. You should try to start each day with a smile. If you need some help doing that, simply play this tune.

I don't know if John McLaughlin will win that Grammy. I guess I would bet against it because I still don't think deep down enough people are ready for the music. But the seeds of his current popularity can be found in the music of his own Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti and his later group Remember Shakti. I find irony in this, too. The influences of ancient Indian music are the basis for a modern music that always seems to be ahead of its own time.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

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