Hot on the heels of a global tour, Verve has put forth 2 CDs representing the wide scope of John McLaughlin's music, from his ground-breaking explorations with Shakti, to his electric flair on a live stage in Paris.
Remember Shakti : The Believer, revisits, with McLaughlin and original member Zakir Hussain (son of Ustad Allarakha , himself a tabla virtuoso) the sessions recorded between 1975-1977 which put McLaughlin on the map (again) as an innovator for his successful mixture of jazz/fusion and Indian traditional music. It was these sessions whose influence lie in McLaughlin's experience as a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, and a tribute to McLaughlin's belief that musical boundaries could truly be eliminated between any cultures and genres. His deep exploration of Indian culture, music and spirituality took in deep into the heart of of its power, and without fail, McLaughlin relayed this power through the instrument he knew best.
Joined by U. Shrinivas and V. Selvaganesh (replacing original members L. Shankar and T.H. Vinayakram), the Shakti experience again makes a significant musical statement. Even for first-time listeners of Shakti, the unlikely mix of McLaughlin's airy-edgy guitar sound and the wonderful tabla, mandolin and ghatam sounds incredibly natural; McLaughlin and mandolinist Shrinivas share Eastern lines with interludes of McLaughlin's thick chord voicings. More pronounced in this setting, McLaughlin's freeform lines and quick phrasing resemble those of a tar (traditional Eastern/Middle-Eastern stringed instrument) sound than the guitar, making him more capable in this setting than any player of his kind.
The energy of this recording is simply fantastic ; you can get lost in the almost singular voice that the 4 players manage to create, and the sounds here contain that same seductive power and energy characteristic of traditional Indian music.
McLaughlin is the chameleon here; as opposed to what you may think, this isn't the jazz/fusion McLaughlin we all know, blowing lines over a background - his time exploring the spiritual and musical side of Indian Culture over a quarter century ago are apparent here, and his lines are so authentic to the setting that you would swear the Englishman grew up in northern India.
6 tracks at an average of almost 14 minutes a piece are no disappointment. Shakti is well worth being remembered, and even beyond remembrance, this recording displays reinvention.
Continuing in the vein of McLaughlin LIVE comes Live In Paris : The Heart Of Things, featuring a cast of powerhouse players : Dennis Chambers on drums is a given, and the subtle virtuoso Matthew Garrison is a perfect addition, along with Otmaro Ruiz on keys Gary Thomas on sax, and Victor Williams on percussion. Recorded roughly a year after the October 1997 release of the same name, the new lineup adds energy and flair to cuts from its predecessor, with the addition of songs previously not featured on the original release.
Skeptics may be weary of another LIVE record, especially based on a previous one, but hey, it's John McLaughlin, and like all great improvisers and composers of his time, even familiar material never sounds the same twice in the hands of master musicians. Most people will pay good money to see the same artist twice on the same tour, even at the same venue, so consider this the second night of a concert you wish you were at.
And the winner is : You can't really compare 2 releases that depict different sides of the same artist, yet you can have your choice. The Shakti experience (especially for those who haven't heard it) is one worth exploring, as it's different from anything you may have heard. John McLaughlin fans will not even blink at the thought of owning Live In Paris, but if you have your fair share of McLaughlin live catalog, and don't feel the need to own more, then save your money for a concert ticket for his 2000/2001 tour.