John McLaughlin Is That So?
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- Released: November 15, 2019
- Originally Released: 2019
- Label: Abstract Logix
- $1.29 on iTunes1.John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan & Zakir HussainKabir
- $1.29 on iTunes2.John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan & Zakir HussainSakhi
- $1.29 on iTunes3.John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan & Zakir HussainTara
- 4.John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan & Zakir HussainThe Search
- $1.29 on iTunes5.John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan & Zakir HussainThe Guru
- $1.29 on iTunes6.John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan & Zakir HussainThe Beloved
Song previews provided courtesy of iTunes
Personnel: John McLaughlin (guitar, guitar synthesizer); Zakir Hussain (tabla).
Liner Note Authors: John McLaughlin; Shankar Mahadevan.
Recording information: Airship Laboratories, Richmond, California; Mediastarz Studio, Monaco; Purple Haze Studios, Mumbai.
Is That So? is a six-years-in-the-making collaborative album by guitarist John McLaughlin (who turned 78 a week before its release), Indian composer and singer Shankar Mahadevan, and tabla master Zakir Hussain. In 2013, McLaughlin was touring with Mahadevan in the revamped Shakti lineup. Completely blown away by the singer's voice, writing, and performance style, McLaughlin was eager to collaborate on something new. He'd had a career-long ambition to wed classical Indian raga to Western harmony. With Hussain in the original 1974 Shakti lineup, the band's music was acoustic and free of Western harmonic concepts, wrapped instead around Indo-jazz fusion.
This group experiments with form and function: They regard musicality as an expression of the sacred. McLaughlin's guitars sound like synthesizers throughout; they are not really solo instruments but harmonic companions for Mahadevan's singing. Hussain's tablas are completely improvised. Opener "Zakir," with its wafting string-and-synth-like sounds, is given heft via Mahadevan's amazing voice, phrasing, and control; it's at once spiritual, soulful, and free of earthly constraints. The integration of East and West is seamless and immediate, and it sounds like the trio has been recording this way for decades. "Tara" is an entreaty and paean to the deity Radha. It's a request to grant the supplicant musical ability for sacred reasons. It comes across as a long cue in a film score, but as McLaughlin constructs the sonic backdrop for Mahadevan's lyric as a sensual petition that not only extends but expands, and becomes entwined with, the musical backing. "The Search" is an Alap lyrical improvisation in a Raag Todi. An alap is the opening section typical in North Indian classical music performances; it's a melodic improv form that serves to create a foundation for the emergent raga. At nearly 11 minutes, it offers a long, moody intro before wafting guitar synth, droning tanpura, and Hussain's tablas establish a complex, slowly unfurling groove. It's alternately moody, earthy, and painfully tender. Closer "The Beloved," at over nine minutes, sounds -- at least initially -- like film music, with lush, harmonic guitar presented on the frontline alongside Mahadevan's almost unbearably beautiful singing. As erotic and sensory as it sounds to those who don't understand Hindi, it's actually a gorgeous prayer. The lyrics offer a fountain of emotionally free yet disciplined praise, affirmation, and petition; the ghostly guitars and rumbling tablas erect a lush harmonic floor that moves the tune in the direction of jazz, though it never fully arrives. McLaughlin's guitar synth peppers the tablas with quick, deft lines and tonal angles. Is That So? is a lovely yet radical and provocative departure for McLaughlin, and one he freely acknowledges longtime fans may not enjoy. It's easy to see his point, but an honest approach to this quietly astonishing music should result in delight for most open-minded listeners. ~ Thom Jurek
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