Shakti: This Moment

This Moment seems to underline McLaughlin's abandonment of raga rules in order to enrich Shankar Mahadevan's vocals with Western harmony

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In the summer of 1976 I was lucky enough to catch a three-part evening of concert performances at the Hammersmith Odeon, featuring Shakti, the Billy Cobham / George Duke Band and Weather Report. I never saw Shakti again but continued to enjoy their music, with the 1977 Natural Elements remaining a personal favourite.

Recently, thanks to the kindness of the late and much-missed David Fraser, I was introduced to Shakti founding member John McLaughlin’s contemporary collaboration with Indian vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and Shakti percussionist Zakir Hussain, on their Is That So?

In his sleeve-note, McLaughlin said “Already from the early 1970s I’d constantly researched the possibilities of integrating harmony into the traditions of North and South India while at the same time keeping as close as possible to the melodic rules of the Raga system.” But now, he revealed, he had come to the idea of abandoning those rules, in order to apply his own Western harmony to the expansive magic of Shankar Mahadevan’s vocalising.

The result was certainly memorable. The present This Moment would seem to seek to build on the success of that radical step, “bending the rules” as one track title has it. The result is largely most enjoyable, full of intricate and astonishing percussive action and vocal call-and-response, complementing finely measured lines from McLaughlin – even if the initial passages of Shrini’s Dream, Bending The Rules and Las Palmas raise fears of a potentially blanded-out fusion experience.

For me, Ganesh Rajagopalan’s ad-libitum violin introduction and Mahadevan’s subsequent, broadly cast and soaring vocal on Karuna [Compassion] constitute the highlight of the session, attaining a wondrous breadth and depth of spiritual utterance. In these straitened times, it may seem an absurd recommendation, but it really is worth purchasing This Moment for this soul-soaked track alone.

Discography
Shrini’s Dream; Bending The Rules; Karuna; Mohanam; Giriraj Sudha; Las Palmas; Changay Naino; Sono Mamma (57.05)
John McLaughlin (g, elg, g synth); Shankar Mahadevan (v); Konokol); Zakir Hussain (tab, further Indian pc); Ganesh Rajagopalan (vn, Konokol); Seluaganesh Uinayakaram (Indian pc).
Abstract Logic ABLX 68