Jeff Tamarkin on July 12, 2023
When the first incarnation of the electric maelstrom that was the Mahavishnu Orchestra had run its course in 1974, it seemed only natural that John McLaughlin might want to indulge in music that was a little less head-splitting. Yet, he was hardly one to lay back completely— intense music was his calling. When the guitarist announced that he had formed a new all-acoustic group with tabla master Zakir Hussain, as well as three other Indian musicians, it made sense—McLaughlin, after all, had been under the spell of an Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, and had become obsessively interested in Indian traditional music. The quintet’s merging of Indian classical elements and jazz fusion worked flawlessly and gained a following but it didn’t last long. McLaughlin disbanded the group after a few years, went on to do other things, then returned at the end of the ‘90s with an updated version, Remember Shakti. Now, McLaughlin and Hussain have reactivated Shakti again, recording and touring with the spellbinding vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan and percussionist Selvaganesh Vinayakram. It’s one of the most potent configurations of the group yet and This Moment—the first new studio album to bear the original Shakti name in more than four decades—is the equal of anything that bore that name previously. It’s a new Shakti, for sure, although the approach is not appreciably different than it was during the earlier runs: McLaughlin still adores nothing more than a blindingly fast guitar passage, executed with precision and taste, and the Indian players are each virtuosos. On tracks like the meditative “Giriraj Sudha,” unfolding deliberately over the course of 10-plus minutes, and the appropriately titled “Bending the Rules,” one of several tracks showcasing the extraordinary Rajagopalan, the group recaptures the aura of the original Shakti while moving the concept forward into today’s world.