Interview:Live in NYC




John McLaughlin:

Live in NYC


John McLaughlin & Remember Shakti
Beacon Theater, New York City
November 5, 2000

Seeing John McLaughlin and his Indian-fusion group, Remember Shakti, is like coming face to face with a force of nature. A human cyclone with a Gibson ES-335 in his hands, McLaughlin is at his best and most natural with this accomplished band. Their music is distinctly non-Western: if you 're looking for interesting chord changes, look elsewhere. Instead, Shakti has always been about rhythm and energy and soul, basing most of their compositions on a single drone note that each of the musicians feeds on for ideas.


With tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain and his percussion partner V. Selvanganesh creating a powerful underpinning, McLaughlin and electric mandolinist U. Shrinivas rip long, improvised solos with joyous abandon. Each song typically starts with a melodic head and then the players begin jamming with complex musical and technical ideas. And did I say they were long? Indeed, the performance of each composition runs about 25 minutes.


It's particularly rewarding to watch Shakti in an intimate setting because seeing the musicians' faces is part of the enjoyment. You can observe them conversing with each other through the music, trading rhythmic ideas and melodic motives frequently. Everyone's in on the act, too. If McLaughlin plays an interesting phrase, Hussain might echo the line rhythmically on his tabla drums. And electric mandolin player Shrinivas is just as exciting. He has monstrously fast picking chops, yet spices up his solos by jiggling his left hand quickly on the fretboard to simulate the quiver of a sitar. No question, instrumental virtuosity abounds in this band.


The music of Remember Shakti isn't for everyone, but if you consider yourself among the ones who "get it," you revel in the magic of this music. While this new lineup isn't as magical as the original Shakti (mostly because of the absence of violin wizard L. Shankar), which recorded three great albums in the mid+- 1970's, it's hard to argue with the charisma of their music, as captured on the recent live album, The Believer.


As they bring Western jazz and Eastern classical-Indian music together into one simple handful of beauty, it's a joy to Remember Shakti once again.