Shakti was a group of McLaughlin's in the mid-to-late 70s. He'd moved away somewhat from the frenetic electric jazz/rock/avant-fusion he pioneered (with Miles Davis, Larry Coryell and The Mahavishnu Orchestra) and towards another kind of fusion: an acoustic amalgam of jazz and South Indian folk and classical music. Throughout his career, McLaughlin has been in & out of various musical settings & genres-and that's to his credit, as so many musicians find their "niche" and stay there. But that sometimes can lead to the dreaded "confounding audience expectations" syndrome-which J.M. will we get?
Answer: the electric McLaughlin. Though Shakti was acoustic (guitar, violin, tablas, mridangam), this edition-Remember Shakti-was "half" electric. J.M. surprised many when he brought his electric ax with him on stage, to be joined by U. Shrinivas on electric mandolin, V. Selvaganesh on mridangam and other Indian percussion and the remarkable tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. (I occasionally got the vibe that a good one-quarter to one-third of the crowd was there to see him in particular.)
McLaughlin played seated cross-legged on the stage, using no effects boxes or devices. He played fast and clean-rapid-fire since notes delivered with elan to spare. Alas, he often fell into the guitarist's-trap that a friend of mine in the 70s put rather succinctly: "McLaughlin plays more notes than he knows what to do with." Too often, his solos-though exhilarating-became showcases of crowd-pleasing DAZZLING technique. J.M. wow'ed 'em, to be sure-but to me the solos were, to borrow a Black Sabbath album title, Technical Ecstasy. By the middle of the second set, McLaughlin's playing came off as a bit cursory and cold. I wish U. Shrinivas had soloed a bit more-he got a LOT of sound out of the electric mandolin: sighs, cries, guitar-like sounds, shimmering evocative textures. Zakir Hussain-who's played with damn near everybody, including Ravi Shankar, Mickey Hart & The Kronos Quartet-was AMAZING. His playing was superhumanly fast, but the speed was tempered with wisdom (born of both tradition and eclecticism) and impish humor. V. Selvaganesh was good, but he gets docked a few points for a percussion solo that went on and onandonandonandon.
The tunes were a mixture of originals and traditional South Indian pieces, the "Indian" and "jazz" styles and influences played off each other. But I wish McLaughlin had played at least some acoustic that night-he has a somewhat dominating presence on electric, and on the acoustic he seemed to "meld" into Shakti as a whole, back when. But all-in-all, it was good to hear & see him live...but it was GREAT to see Hussain.