Shakti with John McLaughlin: What Need Have I For This What Need Have I For That I Am Dancing At The Feet Of My Lord All Is Bliss All Is Bliss


What Need Have I For This What Need Have I For That I Am Dancing At The Feet Of My Lord All Is Bliss All Is Bliss


Shakti with John McLaughlin


Shakti with John McLaughlin (Columbia/Legacy CK 46868)

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John McLaughlin (guitar),

L. Shankar (violin), R. Raghavan (mridangam), T. S. Vinayakaram (ghatam and mridangam), Zakir Hussain (tabla)


Composed by John McLaughlin & L. Shankar


Recorded: Long Island, NY, July 5, 1975


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

There was a time when you could go into a Sears store and find jazz and progressive music in a well- stocked record department. Those days are long gone, but I remember them with fondness. It was 1976. I went to see if there was a new Mahavishnu Orchestra album at my local Sears. Instead, where one of the wonderful artist Chris Poisson's Mahavishnu designed covers would be, there was an entirely different cover. It was simply a picture of John McLaughlin. He had long hair and was holding an acoustic guitar that had an extra set of strings running diagonally across its sound hole. It was the strangest guitar I had ever seen. But that was nothing compared to what McLaughlin himself looked like. Everyone knew him as a crew-cut double-electric guitarist dressed all in white. This was a whole other character. He looked like everyone else!

After my initial shock, I read the liner notes. Except McLaughlin, the band Shakti was comprised of Indian musicians whose names I couldn't pronounce and certainly could not spell. I bought the album and took it home not knowing what to expect. The next several hours were spent listening to the album over and over.

Shakti was recorded live at South Hampton College on Long Island, New York. The audience was used to the electric loudness of Mahavishnu. One can only imagine what they were expecting as this new band sat cross-legged wielding foreign-looking instruments. Like me when I bought the album, they had no idea what was in store. The drone starts to hum. By the end of the concert the crowd's enthusiasm becomes just as important to the performance as the music.

"What Need Have I For This What Need Have I For That I Am Dancing At The Feet Of My Lord All Is Bliss All Is Bliss" has to be one of the longest song titles in the history of music. The tune itself is not so short either, almost half an hour long. Such lengthy titles and songs stalled McLaughlin's career for a bit back then. But the music lives on.

"WNHIFTWNHIFTIADATFOMLAIBAIB" has far too many elements to succinctly describe it. McLaughlin plays his strange guitar contraption as if it were an Indian instrument. The extra strings act as a harp, which he strums between insanely long runs that bend notes from here to Calcutta. For those who care about such things, McLaughlin's fastest notes ever are played. Shankar the violinist is a revelation. I had never even heard an Indian violinist. But here was a musician keeping up with McLaughlin, creating beautifully exotic Eastern soundscapes in freakishly up-tempo calls and responses. People in the crowd scream out as the band's Indian rhythms, themes and improvisational forays get faster and more intense. They go silent when the band shifts into delicate mode. This back and forth of fast and slow and intense and delicate is a constant characteristic of "WNHIFTWNHIFTIADATFOMLAIBAIB."

McLaughlin and Shankar played the melodic instruments here. But the highlight is actually a thrilling extended percussion duel involving tabla master Zakir Hussain, R. Raghavan and Vinayakaram. There is a point in the proceedings that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. This acoustic Indian and jazz hybrid thrilled curious open-minded audiences, but most rock fans stayed away in droves. Only today do we realize the importance of this music. Ironically, despite all the fame McLaughlin achieved because of his jazz-rock Mahavishnu, it is probably Shakti that will have the most enduring influence worldwide.

Two points are taken off the rating for a sometimes tinny sound quality.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

Related Links

In Conversation with John McLaughlin by Walter Kolosky
The South Asian Tinge in Jazz by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: John McLaughlin on Standards by Walter Kolosky

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