ALBUM REVIEW | Shakti's This Moment

Words by J. Picard
The word “Shakti” comes from the Sanskrit word “Sakti,” which means "power or divine energy." It’s the perfect name for a project that includes such virtuosity individually that the sum of its parts has been called “the pinnacle, the nirvana of [Zakir Hussain’s] musical career,” according to the tabla virtuoso himself. It’s a bold statement coming from someone who has performed with Ravi Shankar, Sultan Khan, members of The Beatles, The Grateful Dead and more. Hussain’s western counterpart, guitarist John McLaughlin, has recorded with Miles Davis, Tony Williams and of course Mahavishnu Orchestra, called Shakti a “thrill.” The band came together in 1974 along with violinist L. Shankar and T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram on Ghatam, releasing three albums over the course of 1976 & 1977, marking 46 years since their last release. A brief revival took place in 1997 called Remembering Shakti that included Selvaganesh Vinayakram (son of “Vikku”), mandolin player U. Shrinivas and Shankar Mahadevan who contributed vocals. Following the passing of U. Shrinivas in 2014 and a reunion of the project in 2020, the newest incarnation of Shakti welcomed Ganesh Rajagopalan on violin and ushers in a new era of material. This Moment breaks the musical silence of a legendary supergroup that helped define the fusion of jazz and Indian classical music! From the opening notes of “Shrini’s Dream,” the listener is transported to a timeless space neither past nor future, but to a transformative presence. Soaring vocals intertwined with Takadimi melt with incredibly precise melodies and tempos that speed up and slow with precision and mastery. “Bending The Rules” sounds like a busy day in Mumbai traffic. The organized chaos of the composition welcomes a criss-crossing of instrumentation that flows perfectly and transcends traditional compositional formats before returning the reader to the comfort of song’s signature riff. The somber sound of Ganesh’s violin marks the beginning of “Karuna.” Ganesh climbs to towering heights in an intro that welcomes guitar synth from John and meandering vocals from Shankar before the track takes full shape over four minutes into the composition. “Karuna” concludes with some incredible rhythmic tonal work of the tabla and konokol. The bright sound of “Mohanam” brings the feeling of a new day as Takadimi bounces back and forth in the listener's headphones. The tight matching of notes between Ganesh and Shankar in what feels like an improvised setting creates a natural space that elevates the music to incredible heights and marks one of the true pillars of Shakti’s signature sound. The track strongly features the beautiful heavy handed capability of Salvaganesh’s powerful percussive style. Resonate sound and a beautiful vocal intro from Shankar welcomes “Giriraj Sudha,” dedicated to the memory of U. Shrinivas. The album’s clear behemoth clocks in at over ten and a half minutes respectively. The simultaneous feeling of tightness and musical fluidity takes center stage. The song both feels like it would require extensive charts and that they could perform the entire piece with their eyes closed. I think that’s part of the beauty of Shakti; Through the immense complexities of the output, the music feels so incredibly natural and if it was played purely from the heart. “Las Palmas” brings us to a musical crossroads, where the inspiration takes a bizarre yet welcomed turn towards a Latin sound, while clearly maintaining many of the classical musical roots. There are some captivating percussive polyrhythms that collide with fantastic tonation! The album slows once again for “Changay Naino,” and some background synth sets the mood for an interesting musical conversation. Zakir’s loose tabla playing creates the perfect amount of space, the tabla only tightening as needed to keep the movement directional. The album closes with “Sono Mama,” a track with an ominous start that fully blossoms into a complex yet beautiful lotus flower. Ganesh’s violin playing transcends, making way for some incredible interplay between John and Zakir. “Sono Mama” returns to ground level as Shakti builds and builds towards the sky, landing among the clouds only to rain down on listeners from above, to quench and grow their musical palettes. I consider This Moment to be one of the immediate greats of our time, on par with the band’s previous releases. We are so fortunate to exist in the same moments as Shakti. Thank you to John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain for getting the band back together and continuing to create! I am very much looking forward to seeing Shakti in Ann Arbor, MI on their tour across America!


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