Remember Shakti

Do you remember fusion? Or would you rather not? If you answered in the affirmative to the second question, that's understandable, for rarely has an initially captivating musical movement slipped so fast and far into wretched excess. One notable exception was virtuoso guitarist John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, in which the former Miles Davis sideman imbued electric jazz with a cosmic, almost metallic might and thrust that was capable of hair-raising intensity as well as vividly subtle passages. Along with Weather Report, it was one of the few truly innovative electric jazz outfits of the early 1970s.

By 1975, as fusion was quickly souring, McLaughlin did a 180-degree turn to form Shakti, an acoustic act featuring tabla percussionist Zakir Hussain and violinist L. Shankar that reflected McLaughlin's interest in Indian culture and spirituality as well at its modal musical scale. The group presaged world music with its West-meets-East meld that bonded Indian classical music with the improvisational freedom of jazz. Shakti -- which means "creative intelligence, beauty and power" -- found McLaughlin coaxing as much potency from the acoustic guitar as he had the electric in a context truly ahead of its time.

McLaughlin recently returned to that mode, reuniting with Hussain as Remember Shakti, with the amended name no doubt signifying the absence of Shankar, whose violin was a pivotal element in the original Shakti. That space is now filled by U. Shrinivas, a master of the five-string Indian mandolin. Percussionist V. Selvaganesh on kanjira (tambourine), ghatam (clay pot) and mridangam (double-sided drum) adds even further polyrhythmic accents to the mix. Musically serious yet deliciously playful, quiet yet commanding, Remember Shakti remains, like the original Shakti, one of the truly innovative and visionary progressions in contemporary music.

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Rob Patterson