Monday, 13 January 2014

Review: Shakti - A Handful Of Beauty

After a blinding debut album recorded live at an American college, that more than just successfully melded John McLaughlin’s lightening fast guitar runs and virtuoso handling with the well-known southern Indian exoticisms, melodies and rhythms, the group Shakti lost member Ramnad Raghavan and chose to record in the much more standard environment of a London studio. 

And while losing one member and recording in a much less spontaneous and energised surrounding, the band here despite these sound much more united and cohesive, displaying both some highly dramatic moments as well as more subtle and moving passages too. Better yet, Shankar’s superb violin is thrust much more into the spotlight and takes up just as much of the solo space as the guitar. Everyone too overall sounds much more confident and with greater presence, the effect being much more like that of a group outing than a backing, if admittedly a spectacular backing, to the more famous leader (despite the album still being credited to ‘Shakti with John McLaughlin’).

All of the tunes provided are by McLaughlin and Shankar, with the exception of one lengthy traditional piece, and each seems much more fused in their joining of East meets West, as well all showcasing a greater lyrical approach than the earlier eponymous debut.
Despite all this though, it’s perhaps a less welcoming effort for McLaughlin’s earlier fans from the rock and jazz-rock worlds, with everything slightly more inward looking and meditative, with the sizzling and furious energy levels down at least two notches. It’s something else all of its own of course, although potentially lazily pinned into either of those non-genres labelled as ‘new age’ or ‘world’, but it is without doubt a distinct and beautiful, strongly spiritual work that always rewards repeated listens.


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