Remember Shakti: The Way of Beauty
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A 60 minutes documentary film Shakti Timeless, which tells the story of the indo-western music group Shakti. Formed in 1975, the group pioneered a groundbreaking and highly influential musical East-meets-West approach. In the 70s, the group, whose name means creative intelligence, beauty and power, consisted of legendary British jazz guitarist John Mclaughlin, North Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain and violinist L. Shankar and ghatam (percussion) player T.H. "Vikku" Vinayakram, both of whom hail from South India. Together, they created a fluid and organic sound that managed to successfully combine seemingly incompatible traditions. After a number of very successful live concerts and albums they disbanded. The group was reformed in 1997 under the name 'Remember Shakti' with new talent from India like V. Selvaganesh who replaced his father Vikku and the young prodigy Mandolin U. Shrinivas who replaced L. Shankar. in 2000, the young Indian Classical singer Shankar Mahadevan joined the group as the first vocal element in the group.
East-West fusions are so common now that the idea of a British guitarist with a jazz-rock pedigree mixing it up with Indian classical musicians raises no eyebrows. But in 1975, when John McLaughlin debuted Shakti, the concept and the music itself were downright alien, especially in comparison to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which McLaughlin had just disbanded. Here was McLauglin sitting cross-legged, surrounded by Zakir Hussain's tablas, L.Shankar's Indian violin and Vikku Vinayakram on the ghatam, a bowl-like percussion instrument. McLaughlin had traded in his double-necked electric for an acoustic, found commonalities in places few had previously explored and, with his new cohorts, taken it all somewhere new. By 1977 it was over.
Remember Shakti, the reconstituted iteration of of the group that came together in the late '90s, is softer, more nuanced and less showy than its younger predecessor. From the earlier lineup, only McLaughlin and Hussain remain. U. Shrinivas on mandolin, V. Selvaganesh on kanjira, ghatam and mridangam, and vocalist Shankar Mahadevan fill out the group, and although the general approach has not changed radically, it's a more mature Shakti showcased here in performance footage filmed in Bombay in 2000 and Montreux four years later. In interviews that supplement the live music, both McLaughlin and Hussain recall the bond they formed upon first meeting in the '70s. They were, says Hussain, "like two minds, two thoughts, one action."
That telepathy still exists between the pair as well as the others. On "Giriraj Sudha," the opening number from Bombay, the rhythms are airtight and the playing mesmeric, even as McLaughlin's guitar sits out much of the tune, the co-leader preferring to clap his hands in wide-arcing forward movements. When he does hit the strings, he does so with a more graceful, unhurried touch than he ever would have considered in the '70s.
To underscore the differences, '70s footage of the first Shakti, and even some brief Mahavishnu, is generously interspersed. Although Hussain now utilizes electronic percussion in addition to his tablas, Remember Shakti somehow seems even more organic and single-minded than the pineering group being remembered.
- Jeff Tamarkin --JazzTimes - June 2008
A concert in support of the 2000 CD Saturday Night In Bombay offers the first of three concerts. The other two are excerpted Montreux shows from 1976 and 2004. Going from color to black and white to color (a distraction), the Bombay show offers proof of what the CD could only hint at: the picture of relaxed intimate creative expression among members - intense, traditional and jazzy. In the morphing Shakti and Remember Shakti, the melding of classical Indian technique and Western jazz improvisation finds the perfect expression.
- John Ephland --DownBeat - July 2008
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The same thing about two of the three songs on the more recent (John hair was white) "Live at Bombey" performance. The first one, for example, is great: it's called "Giriraj Sudha" and it features V. Selvaganesh on various percussions, Shankar Mahavadenon the voice (a very strong point on this song), A. K. Pallanivel on the tavil, another indian percussion, John, Zakir and the phenomenal mandolin player U. Shrinvas that wrote the song as well. The melody and the rhythm of this song is so frenetic, and even if John doesn't play a lot on it, the mandolin is still great
The weak point of this performance is of course the next song: "Shringar", featuring Shiv Kumar Sharma on the santur, a strange string instrument played with sticks. This song consist in a boring quarter-hour santur solo. Then percussions start to play, and it becomes more interesting. Only when John touches his strings the song touches the apex, but the rest of it is absolutely boring.
The best song on this performance is the last one: "Bell'alla", written by Zakir (the tabla player), that features also Bhattacharya, an incredible slide guitar player (the slide guitar is not the classic occidental one, but the indian one, that sounds like a sitar) and Sivamani, a drums player, probably with jazz influences.
Debashish's slide guitar and John's Gibson solos are incredible, so great and inventive. No one can beat them. The percussions solos are great too.
The next video is of another Montreux show, but this time dated 2004.
It featured John, Zakir, Shrinvas, Selvaganesh and Mahadaven, but it's quite boring: John guitar uses the same effect all the song long, and the singer says the same sentence during 10 minutes! So this performance is really poor.
So, as I said before, on this DVD there are good ones and bad ones: you just have to choose the right for you.
Anyway, the biggest difference between the old performances and the new ones, (in my opinion) is that while the olds were the "meeting point" between indian and jazz music, the new ones are like indian music with a jazz guitar player, like a stranger. Maybe they forgot what was Shakti about in 70's, or maybe it's just me...
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