The natural evolution of Shakti

June 28, 2017 08:23 pm | Updated 08:23 pm IST

Around 40 years ago, a Britisher and three Indians entered a studio in Geneva, Switzerland, to record a path-breaking album just a few days before performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 8, 1977.

The group was Shakti and it was their third album, Natural Elements , after the 1976 releases Shakti With John McLaughlin and A Handful of Beauty . Guitarist McLaughlin, violinist L. Shankar, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and ghatam exponent Vikku Vinayakram were to create a huge influence on future Indian musicians with their Indo-jazz sound.

Enough has been written about the group and its later avatar Remember Shakti; so let’s not get into that sphere. But to celebrate 40 years of Natural Elements , let’s talk about some great fusion albums recorded in the 2010s. There has been some splendid stuff though one wished the frequency of release was higher.

This isn’t a personal order of preferences but let’s begin with three albums released last year, and go backwards in time. There was Bangaluru-based slide guitarist Prakash Sontakke’s Progressive Raga - Evolving Into The Future . A neat blend of Hindustani, Carnatic and western elements with street sounds and studio effects, this is a collector’s piece. For starters, check Gandhi Bazaar Buzz and Surfing The Bangalore Skies .

The other 2016 recommendations are guitarist Sanjay Divecha's Secret and percussionist-producer Karsh Kale's Up . The former uses languages as diverse as Kannada, Hindi, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Assamese and Oriya, and Divecha's guitaring is exquisite. For his part, Kale uses vocals, guitar, sitar, flute and sarangi to create a contemplative and atmospheric sound.

Going back to 2015, there was kanjira maestro V. Selvaganesh's band Arka, which released the album And A Half featuring – vocalist Karthik, flautist Ravichandra Kulur, drummer Gino Banks, bassist Mishko M'ba and guitarist Santosh Chandran – its focus was on the use of odd rhythmic cycles.

Cut back to 2014, and popular band Indian Ocean released the brilliant Tandanu . Minus well-known guitarist Susmit Sen, and with a couple of new entrants, they produced their typical sound. Earlier that year, tabla player Anuradha Pal released Recharge Plus , a heady and seamless mix of Hindustani and Carnatic with devotional, folk, jazz, Middle Eastern, African, Latino and even western classical.

A personal favourite would be flautist Rajeev Raja’s Cosmic Chant , a gem of an album revolving around Raja’s western concert flute and Chandana Bala’s vocals, with Indian classical, jazz and world music as the base. And talking of world music, 2013 also saw the release of Anoushka Shankar’s Grammy-nominated Traces of You , produced by the versatile Nitin Sawhney.

Another 2013 highlight was Ravi Iyer’s guitar-oriented and raga-based Bends . And in 2012, came the masterpiece Crossing by the supremely talented sitar player Ravi Chary. It was like Indian classical meets (American jazz fusion band) Weather Report and 1970s funk. The same year, violinist Sunita Bhuyan blended Assamese Bihu music with Irish folk and jazz in the marvellous Bihu Strings , and Indian Ocean's former guitarist Susmit Sen released the classy Depths Of The Ocean .

Finally, the year 2010 had drummer Ranjit Barot's Bada Boom , featuring a huge line-up of Indian and international stars. The track ‘Supernova’, dedicated to tabla legend Ustad Allarakha, was outstanding, and so was the rest of the album.

These were some of the main fusion gems of this decade. The groups Advaita and Swarathma also released some great albums in the interim. On that note, happy listening. And happy 40th to Shakti's Natural Elements . The legend lives on.

The author is a freelance music writer

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