Earthy percussive rhythms. Airy flute. Softly filtered guitar. Shakti's triumphant 1997 return to live performance was cause for celebration indeed; founder John McLaughlin and tabla master Zakir Hussain remained from the original lineup, with a few new friends jumping on board to continue the Indian/jazz fusion the group had perfected so well in the 70s. The overall mood here was softer and more reflective than usual - the presence of guest Hariprasad Chaurasia on bansuri flute made the affair much lighter and more meditative, and this album mostly left out the incredible instrumental pyrotechnics that made their original debut such a blazing firecracker of an album. No doubt many were disappointed to hear such a laid-back offering from the group.. it would almost be like Led Zeppelin reforming and turning out an album of slow ballads. But the superb musicianship and tight-knit group chemistry leave no doubt that whatever the lineup, whatever the mood, they will always be Shakti.
Anyone mainly looking for the usual greased-lightning virtuosity of McLaughlin and crew will be mostly disappointed with this selection. John's guitar isn't even present during the first half hour during "Chandrakauns," and he's perfectly content to sit silent through several stretches during the other tracks. Chaurasia's beautifully graceful flute is the main star most of the time. It floats over the tabla and ghatam beats. It lends a balance to the soft guitar through their closing duet "Zakir." For several passages it's the only sound to be heard, drifting through the air all by its lonely self. The flute is only absent through "The Wish," giving John his main space to stretch out with some of that trademark hyper guitar. Though the fast-paced beats of Hussain and T.H. Vinayakram make it the busiest track to be found, it never entirely loses the dreamy quality of the whole album. Even the recurring "Lotus Feet" is minor-keyed and somber this time around, not lightened much by the grave slowness of the percussion.
I myself don't listen to this Shakti album as much as the others, probably because it's the most quiet and low-key of the bunch, but it remains no less stellar because of that. Plenty more fire and energy would come later with The Believer and Saturday Night in Bombay. For the time being they were content to let us sit back, drift and dream.. and I say there's not a thing wrong with that. All is bliss, all is bliss.