Monday, September 4, 2017

Remember Shakti - 2001 - Saturday Night In Bombay

Remember Shakti 
Saturday Night In Bombay

01. Luki (5:39)
02. Shringar (26:38)
03. Giriraj Sudha (10:45)
04. Bell 'Alla (18:48)

- John McLaughlin / guitar
- Zakir Hussain / tabla
- U. Shrinivas / mandolin
- V. Selvaganesh / kanjira, ghatam, mridangam
- Shankar Mahadevan / vocal
- Debashish Bhattacharya / Hindustani slide guitar
- Sivamani / drums and percussion
- Bhavani Shankar / dholak and pakhawaj
- Roshan Ali / dholek
- Aziz / dholak
- Taufiq Qureshi / def, dafli, and percussion
- Shiv Kumar Sharma / santur
- A.K. Pallanivel / tavil

Recorded live in Bombay (India) on Dec. 8 and 9, 2000

These all-star outings always run the risk of over-polite hosts. When people purchase a Remember Shakti album, they want to hear Remember Shakti. They don't want to hear the group sitting back and letting its guests steal the show. Although Remember Shakti does take a little bit too much of a backseat on santur player Shiv Kurmar Sharma's "Shringar," the music culled from these two nights represents some of the best East-meets-West Indo-jazz fusion ever produced.

The opening cut, "Luki," sounds particularly impressive to Western ears. According to people who were at the concert, this is a truncated version of a piece that went on for many more minutes. McLaughlin has never written any tune quite like this. Featuring many players and the vocals of Shankar Mahadevan, this tune is the perfect marriage of Indian, Western jazz and World music. It cries out bliss!

The amazing electric mandolin of U. Shrinivas is somewhat underutilized on SNIB. But his playing is a dominant and transcending force on the piece he penned, "Giriraj Sudha." The percussion support of the great Zakir Hussain and V. Selvaganesh has been the backbone of Remember Shakti, and its importance becomes even more apparent on SNIB. Rhythm is the common language for all of the players. And of course, McLaughlin makes his electric guitar sing the songs of the world.

While those of us in the Western World listen to and enjoy this music based upon our own paradigms of musical structure, Remember Shakti has become a wildly popular band in India. And this is not just because the band has some Indian musicians. The widespread acclaim is due to the fact that within the framework of the music, its form and structure, the musicians follow traditional Indian precepts. Indians claim this is very rare thing for an internationally integrated band to do. And in fact, most Western ears don't even hear it. We are missing out. McLaughlin has spent years studying Indian Classical music. It has paid off in a big way.

Remember Shakti will be remembered for its continuation of the pioneering musical and social spirit of the original Shakti, as well as the virtuosity of its musicians and the unique combination of electric instruments with Indian rhythms. The beautifully recorded and Grammy-nominated Saturday Night in Bombay represents the culmination of decades of hard work and study. It is the most enjoyable and accessible music of its kind. If one were to indulge in measurement of international jazz, Saturday Night in Bombay would be the yardstick.

Master guitarist John McLaughlin once again redefines the meaning of fusion in this year 2000 concert recording, and likewise reaffirms his deep affection for classical Indian music and philosophy.
But please don't confuse the ongoing Remember Shakti project with its late '70s namesake, unheard by this critic, but judging from reviews a different animal altogether. Instead of being an actual band, Remember Shakti is (was?) more of a free-form, open-ended collaboration between McLaughlin and an interchangeable cast of traditional Indian musicians, typically spearheaded by tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain.

For this gig, performed on Hussain's home turf, the ex-MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA leader was joined by a small army of local players, employing a vast array of arcane instruments with unpronounceable names: kanjira, tavil, mridangam, pakhawaj, and so forth. The music, not surprisingly, is firmly rooted in ancient Indian aesthetics, but don't let that scare you away: this is magical stuff, played with enough skill and energy to translate across any cultural barrier.

Every performance is galvanized, and McLaughlin in particular is near the top of his game (or is that simply because his electric guitar is the only instrument here I can readily identify with?) Listen to his adrenalin-fueled duel with mandolin player U. Shrinivas in the breathless concert opener "Luki", with its airtight Jazz Rock tempos maybe the most accessible track here to unacclimatized Western ears (it's also the only McLaughlin-penned composition on the entire disc). Marvel too at the quiet intensity of his solos over the haunting strains of the Indian zither in "Shringar", at 26+ minutes long clearly a highlight of the evening.

Even with genuine, recognizable drums and occasional singing (typically the hyper-drive scat of Shankar Mahadevan), the sound is obviously more Indian than Anglo Saxon. But it shouldn't be dismissed offhand out of unspoken cultural chauvinism. Consider this: if the exact same music had been played with conventional rock instruments (imagine it as an OZRIC TENTACLES album), this CD would be widely hailed as modern ethnic-trance masterpiece.

Sometimes it's all a question of perspective. And isn't that the ultimate goal of any stab at musical fusion? To help foster an awareness of a wider musical spectrum beyond the narrow comfort zone of our own cultural preferences?

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