Friday, July 20, 2007

John McLaughlin - Remember Shakti

Ιn the mid-1970's many believed John McLaughlin had committed commercial suicide by abandoning electric instruments and Western sensibilities in favor of an all-acoustic group with Indian musicians. In fact, record sales for this group, Shakti (translates in Sanskrit to "female creative power" or "goddess") were quite disappointing. Sometimes though, a musician has to follow his muse. In this case, McLaughlin was led to create a very fertile groundbreaking group in the form of Shakti. Shakti was really the first band to truly capture the essence of what we now call "World Music." Shakti's dependence on Eastern musical models infused with Western jazz-like improvisation made for an exciting and influential stew.

One doesn't have to look very far into McLaughlin's past to see why such a band would appeal to him. His own inclinations toward Eastern music can be heard on side two of his earlier recording My Goal's Beyond. Certainly, he was influenced even before that outing by the pop mysticism of the times and his own involvement in seeking self-realization through Eastern philosophy, not to mention of course his study of Indian music.

Remember Shakti, formed in the mid 90s, features original Shakti member, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, one of the most respected musicians in India, U. Srinivas on mandolin, Shankar Mahadevan on vocals and V. Selvaganesh on percussion.

Remember Shakti, just like John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, is extremely multinational, and multigenerational.

This is reflective, serious East-meets-West music full of truly virtuosic moments and plenty of drama. Above all, this music is good for the soul.

Let's enjoy this unique group in their appearance in Vienne,France on July 2, 2004.

P.S. All videos from my personal collection, posted on various video hosting web sites.


Spitogata said...

Προσωπικά αναζητώ απεγνωσμένα world and world fusion ακούσματα.
Τον Shakti όμως δεν τον είχα υπ'όψην.

Ευτυχώς...εδώ εμπλουτίζω τις μουσικές μου γνώσεις.

Σε λίγο και εισητήριο για downloads!

delta_mike said...

Κατ' αρχάς χαίρομαι, γιά το ειλικρινές ενδιαφέρον σου...

Το εν λόγω γκρούπ ονομάζεται Remember Shakti και δημιουργήθηκε στα μέσα της δεκαετίας του '90. Το αρχικό γκρούπ, Shakti σκέτο, είναι δημιούργημα του John McLaughlin (του γελαστού ασπρομάλλη κυρίου με την κιθάρα στο βίντεο), του οποίου το όνομα είναι συνδεδεμένο με κάθε λογής fusion.

Ξεκίνησε στα τέλη της δεκαετίας του '60 με τα ηλεκτρικά γκρούπς του Miles Davis στο καθοριστικό άλμπουμ Bitches Brew, και μετά έκανε σόλο καριέρα γενόμενος superstar στην πορεία με το σουπεργκρουπ Mahavishnu Orchestra με τον Jan Hammer στα πλήκτρα (θα τον ξέρεις ίσως από το μουσικό θέμα του Miami Vice) και τον Bllly Cobham στα drums.

Δυνατός, ροκ take no prisoners ήχος χαρακτήριζε αυτό το γκρούπ και έτσι γεννήθηκε η fusion...

Στα μέσα της δεκαετίας του '70 εκανε την ακουστική στροφή με τους Shakti, δημιουργώντας ένα ακουστικό σύνολο με βιρτουόζους Ινδούς μουσικούς (η Ινδία έχει τεράστια μουσική παράδοση), "κουφαίνοντας" τους πάντες.

Εν κατακλείδι αυτός ο άνθρωπος έπαιζε world fusion μουσική 2 δεκαετίες πριν επινοηθεί ο όρος...

Αυτή η μουσική εν τη ευρεία εννοία είναι τζαζ στον πυρήνα της...

Η τζαζ είναι ένα ανεξάντλητο θέμα γιά το οποίο όπως βλέπεις, δεν κουράζομαι ποτέ να μιλάω, καλές θεάσεις!

Naftali2 said...

Thank you so much Itsartolie for providing this forum. You are doing yeoman's work. Me, I believe I've painted myself into a corner on this John McLaughlin video and must float across the floor to get to the door. It looks as though I might pass the 500 character mark soon and I wonder if anything strange will happen when I do,

Did you feel that? A little tremor in the earth? Wow. And paragraphs, I can write paragraphs. I'm free, I'm free.

Regarding McLaughlin: This is what I see, just my perspective, and I think it can best be illustrated by a hypothetical. Let's say we go back in time to a town where the Oscar Peterson Trio is going to play that evening. As showtime approaches Ray Brown becomes ill and must be hospitalized. There is one other bass player in town who will play later in the week, Stanley Clarke. He will be with Chick Corea and Lenny White, Airto and Joe Farrell, playing electric jazz. Oscar calls Stanley, who accepts the job.

Does Stanley bring his electric bass and play in the style he would with Chick Corea? Or does he load up the station wagon with his upright and pray while driving that the heavens will help him fill Ray Brown's considerable and miraculous musical space?

It's not a question of chops. But if he shows up with the electric bass, what does that say about him as a musician? To me (and if there are other conclusions to draw I can't see them right now) it says that he feels that he is bigger than the music, not that the music is bigger than himself. Unfortunately, I believe it also says that he does not see his role as being helpful to the others in the band, that others must, in virtually all circumstances, change their styles and comforts to accomodate his style. Again, if there are other ways to explain this behavior, my ears are indeed open. By the same token, if Stanley Clarke shows up with the upright, what does that say about him as a musician? I would not dare criticize him for not being Ray Brown, and I would applaud him for his efforts and his understanding and his empathy. But I see McLaughlin doing the former, and this is the second time I believe I've seen it. Thus, my opinion of him changed.

I also need to apologize. When one walks the path of cynicism it's entirely possible to step one way and end up making toxic comments, still thinking you are well within the limits of acceptable cynicism. And the only way of knowing is from the feedback. So I must have crossed the line and I apologize for that.

Although I could blame it on the 500 character limit, but I won't. Of course, it's provable. If I make the same mistake here, where I can roll around in the plush green grass of essays, where I can use the tone and time I need to make my points, then the issue is mine alone and clearly so.

Unfortunately, I know I'm prone to that line crossing (ah we cynics live on the edge--we're edgy and fresh) regardless of medium, but I'll try to avoid it and maybe even succeed. I truly respect both sites that Itsartolie has provided and wouldn't want either to be diminished on my account.

Now, draw your swords, I'm ready.

delta_mike said...

Welcome here naftali.

You are right, this youtube thing started as a way to outsource my extensive video collection, but, as you witnessed from the very beginning, it gathered momentum and turned itself into a jazz forum of sorts, you never really know how these things will evolve.

That said, youtube is severely restricting to anyone who wants to comment in anything resembling depth, and understandably so, can you imagine the chaos that would ensue with all these millions of videos? (on the other hand, the satirist in me would love to see some extensive commenting on youtube porn, lol).

So, the idea of this blog emerged, along with the desire to enlighten Greek audiences on the wonders of this music. Isn't it amazing what high bandwith can do to one's life? We gotta bless the web for that.

I read your points on the McLaughlin issue very carefully, and I intend to reply in length very shortly.

erktonemusic said...

Alright, I'll bite. I certainly agree that this is a much better forum for a discussion such as this; youtube comment pages rarely lend themselves to civil discourse. Thanks, delta_mike/Itsartolie!

Naftali2, you make a great argument. I love the analogy with Stanley- it seems to cut to the heart of our disagreement. I'd like to pose a question to Oscar Peterson in our hypothetical situation; is he interested in playing with Stanley Clarke because he's Stanley Clarke (Chick Corea sideman and all), or does he need 'a' bassist who can keep rock solid, swinging time with a tone that can make your heart jump clear out of your body (like Ray)? Sure, Stanley could probably nail the gig on upright but I would be just as interested in hearing Oscar work with a different texture in his trio. Not because it would be classic Oscar Peterson but because all three musicians would have to stretch a little (or a lot) beyond their usual roles and textures on their instruments. Sure, the gig may crash and burn and the audience may boo them off the stage, but there's a chance that something magical could happen. I'm personally attracted to that kind of risk-taking in music. What if Stanley shows up with his electric bass? Stanley Clarke is still Stanley Clarke regardless of the instrument in his hands. Maybe Stanley would be polite enough to ask Oscar if he has a preference.

This is where Stanley and John part ways. What if Stanley only played electric bass? Better yet, let's sub out Stanley for Steve Swallow. Would Steve take the gig? I sure hope so. Would he play his electric bass? Of course. He hasn't played an upright on a gig in decades. Would that, in your mind, make him 'Steve-centric' rather than 'music-centric'? Steve's choice of instrument, just like John's, is the product of a lifetime of musical growth and a matter of personal necessity. Steve speaks though his electric bass and John speaks through his guitar.

As for the question of John's interactions with musicians of different paths, who knows? Was Bireli upset by John's actions? Perhaps there were more great rhythm guitarists in the room than I can count on both hands. Perhaps John decided not to insult their many lifetimes of hard work in their idiom by simply jumping on the musical bandwagon and instead played as himself without pretending to be something he's not. Sure, John has done his homework, but he doesn't present himself as anything other than himself. Then again, maybe John was just having an off night.

So, why does John play electric guitar in Remember Shakti? The same reason that Zakir plays non-Indian percussion alongside his tabla. The same reason that U. Srinivas plays a fretted, electric mandolin. It's their choice, their voice and the best way they know to get the sounds in their heads out into our ears! They're all coming from one tradition or another but certainly not imprisoned by it. To me, this is beautiful music played by five people who enjoy each other's presence onstage. It also exemplifies a sense of play (watch Zakir throw those rhythmic curveballs- he'll totally nail John and the others from time to time and they just keep laughing and playing!) often absent in improvised music. Alright, that's enough for now... let the discourse roll!

Naftali2 said...


You also make a good argument, and I'll work my way down to it.

But let's start with my hypothetical. It's an hour before the gig, Ray gets sick, and Oscar call Stanley--to fill in for Ray. The question, is Stanley smart or sensitive enough to know this (yes), and can he do the job (yes), so...will he? The choice he makes tells us about him as a person. Let's say he packs up the upright. He's saying with this choice that the music comes first, his style comes second, his fame comes second if it even matters at all, and his favorite instrument, doesn't matter, the music comes first.

Let's say he wants to experiment with Oscar. After the gig, 'hey you want to get together tomorrow, I'll play the electric, see what happens?' Professional.

Now, when in your soul the music comes first--and we'll know this by the choices you make (I'm quoting Dumbledore here so it has to be true)--you will probably make good music most of the time.

If other things get in the way of the music, if other things come first, like your own fame, the love of the spotlight, whatever, you will make another kind of music. It might sell, you might be famous (since famous is what you truly seek), but it probably won't get on this website (unless Itsartolie/Delta Mike) is deciding to run the Kenny G marathon (for those of you who are native speakers of Greek I mean 'show many hours of Kenny G videos' not run 26.2 miles along with Kenny G).

My issue with McLaughlin is that his software is upside down. His instrument comes before the music, his style comes before the requirements of the musical moment, and so I suspect he's getting in the way of the music.

Now for your very good argument. What if the guys sat down and played the way they are playing, liked it and said, 'let's do it.'? Well, that's probably exactly what happened. So, okay, play, enjoy, make records, go on tours. And besides, since very few people have heard authentic Carnatic music (Me!), no one will know what they're missing. And this is true. I have no idea how this can sound, and from what you've described, it would take me a long time to have a clue.

I just think what if. What if John put music before his instrument? Then he would become expert in the 'vina' (do I have that right?) Then, if he's showing me this music, he can put in the subtleties that will light a fire under the other musicians, and so I'm missing them really getting into their deepest comfort zone.

Let's say he didn't put his style above the music, then what? Then we have a situation like Bill Evans on Freddie the Freeloader. Miles Davis didn't let Bill Evans play on Freddie, Wynton Kelly did, because Wynton's style suited the tune, whereas who else could have comped on Blue in Green? This means that John steps aside, gets some hot vina player and let's the band get their groove on and John gets producer/promoter revenue. Steely Dan did this when they produced Apogee with Pete Christleib and Warne Marsh. It's a great album.

Or, if he didn't put his style first, someone else does the duet with Birelli, and damn those guys can swing. But that moment didn't occur. It could have been memorable, it could have been mind-blowing, it could have hit the asterisk level (in the language of this site it means so good that words fail). Didn't happen.

And I care about that. I care that some potentially great moments didn't happen because of those choices, that upside downness.

Maybe I wouldn't feel that way if jazz were healthy, or if really good music were the norm. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Carnatic music was outselling jazz. So every moment is precious, to create a music that people once again care about and is so much a part of people you can see it in a person's walk.

Naftali2 said...

P.S. Dude this is so cool. No way we could do this on Youtube.

delta_mike said...

What we're listening here is not 'authentic' Indian music, nor jazz for that matter, it's - and I'll use the F word - fusion music, an idiom that McLaughling has been instrumental in popularizing, and understandably so, given the specific period he entered the music scene.

Sure, fusion music has had its bad moments, with musicians posing as rock stars and fat paychecks to go along, playing stale stuff of little or no musical importance whatsoever.

But, in the hands of musicians in the caliber of John McLaughlin or Joe Zawinul, two musicians I've closely followed,I feel that this was seldom the case.

I will disagree with Naftali that JM is preoccupied with musical excellence in his instrument, this is selling him way too short, what I hear is an effort by musicians of different cultures to make a valid musical statement borrowing from each other's arsenal.

Case in point, Zakir Hussain's Manopa, with an intro and general feel strongly reminiscing "Lyla's Dance" from JM's "Visions Of The Emerald Beyond".

I'd further this and say that JM is using these superb Indian musicians to achieve his artistic goal here, he is not - to my ears at least -
interfering with the music one bit, much in the mold of Joe Zawinul, he is just doing in a more subtle way.

It is my firm belief that there are two kinds of listeners:
The first kind checks his coat called "objective appreciation" at the lobby and enters the performance ready to be sold whatever is sold in there. The other kind, well, we are the other kind, p[eople who really care about this music and have payed their dues in a number of ways.

I also am fully aware that it is quite difficult to pass objective judgment to a musical idiom that is as good as dead, and I am talking about fusion not jazz here, a subidiom or subgenre if you will, there are moments where I feel like dismissing JM as just another poseur with a fancy haircut and a grin to match it, but being on the spearhead of artistic creativity is almost always a hit and miss approach.

Whatever his misses may be, his hits vastly outnumber them.

PS1 thank you both for your comments and kind words, I sure appreciate this debate with guys who really know what they're talking about.

PS2 Is it okay gor both of you if I remove your comments on JM from youtube? this place is so high profile that I fear that someone, even JM himself might spot them with adverse results from what I'm trying to do there i.e. to spread the word about this wonderful music.

Naftali2 said...

Yeah, please remove. I think if you don't I'll be apologizing for my comments until I'm using a walker.

I've done a few more today, but referred them here, which is a much better tone.

I think we've covered it from all possible perspectives and I personally am very comfortable with disagreement when all perspectives are fairly covered.

So don't let me keep you from removing that stuff. I'll even drive you to the deletofier.

erktonemusic said...

Yay! This is fun. Thanks to both of you for your interesting comments. Delta_mike, feel free to delete those comments on youtube.

It's funny, as a guitarist I'm not really a huge fan of John's playing- I listen to Remember Shakti more for Zakir and Srinivas than anything else. John has his 'thing' and does it wonderfully and authentically because he's spent his life doing it- whether I 'like' it or not is unimportant. Naftali2, I've wondered as well what might have gone down if he had spent time really getting the vina together (check out the short documentary on vina (sometimes spelled veena) master S. Balachander or a clip of Jayanthi Kumaresh in performance both on youtube if you'd like to hear the real deal), yet I respect his decision to focus all his energy through the guitar- I'd rather hear hear him express himself on an instrument he's dediated his entire life mastering rather than struggle with the vina, which is exceedingly difficult to play no matter how great a musician one may be. It's not something that one can just 'pick up' and play- it takes decades for a student to achieve adequate mastery of the subtleties of the vina and for John to just bust it out even after several years of training would be a much bigger insult to trained Carnatic musicians than bringing a guitar that he can really, thoroughly, honestly play. Long story short, John is an artist who has chosen his medium- asking him to change instruments is a bit like asking Rodin to switch from sculpture to watercolors...

Naftali2 said...

I hear you, and I just want to respond to your last sentence, the last analogy. It's not like asking Rodin to switch from sculpture to watercolors. More accurate, it's as if Rodin publicly and enthusiastically finds that he loves, just loves, watercolors, but for whatever reason, finds a brush not exactly his cup of tea. And so he paints using rifflers, rasps, and a chisel. And ends up using oils, because you really can do a nice painting in oils with those tools. That's it. I'm not saying it's a bad or wrong thing, it just makes me say 'Hmmmm'.

But, hopefully, to finish this discussion--and after this I think we should find a topic that will evoke laughter--if I were McLaughlin and looked back on my career, I'd be very proud and satisfied. He clearly has many ardent admirers, which is a good thing. And I suspect he has more than a few friends who will defend him passionately, also a good thing. Trying to find your inner voice is a difficult practice and few succeed among the small group that even choose to shoulder the task. All in all, good for him.

And if Delta Mike wishes to further edit the comment board on Youtube, I wouldn't object.

Anyway, three guys walk into a bar....

delta_mike said...

Again, I feel we are being a little unfair to the man. To expect of him to master the vina or the sitar or what have you would be missing the point entirely, as what JM is obviously trying to do is to fuse musical idioms much in the way he did in his Mahavishnu days and during his whole musical career for that matter.

To my mind he is primarily a fusion musician. The downside of it from my listener's viewpoint, as Erktone said and I agree, is that when hearing a JM recording my attention is almost always shifted to the accompanying musicians and to the musical message of the ensemble as a whole, great as his technique may be.

In some curious way, he manages to be in and out of the spotlight simultaneously, in the same way - and I am going to draw an analogy here - Count Basie or Duke Ellington did, both extremely competent pianists who always counted on the strengths of their fellow musicians to bring their message across.

So, to wrap it up, yes JM is a virtuoso guitarist and no, his primary concern is not technical excellence in his instrument - he has accomplished that decades ago - it is rather a tireless quest to reach a higher spiritual plane through music.

Naftali2 said...

How can we (I) be being unfair to the man if we are saying nicer and nicer things about him? And didn't I acknowledge that he's trying to reach a higher spiritual plane, which I call finding an inner voice? Of course it's hard, there's a good reason it is the road less traveled--it hurts your feet.

No one is asking him to do anything or expecting him to do anything he doesn't want to do (well okay, it would have been nicer if a few things were different, but the same could be said about me.)

But, I was talking about the last analogy, that it wasn't as accurate an analogy as it could have been. It's about the analogy.

If we have a good discussion, there's a reason for that. It's because we all pretty much know the rules of having a discussion. Right? Clarify your terms, no straw men, listen to the opposite side, make sure your logic and arguments are actually logical, make sure your analogies are accurate, be ready to change your mind...need I go on?

So, as I was saying, three guys walk into a bar....

Elin said...

People should read this.