Shakti – Natural Elements (1977)
Shakti is the project developed by fusion guitarist John McLaughlin after the Mahavishnu Orchestra ended, which saw him furthering his musical vocabulary through eastern traditions, particularly the Indian and Hindustani raga forms.
Their final album, ‘Natural Elements’, demonstrated a new level for the band, combining western and eastern styles whilst maintaining fluid and honest compositional integrity without compromising the music for the sake of virtuosity. Although virtuosity is, perhaps, one of the more notable components initially, there’s an exhilarating atmosphere that stems from its ethnic diversity, beyond the flurry of notes and disarming time signatures. The music extends its reach into the inner understandings of Indian and Hindustani spiritual practices and their connection to the natural world whilst maintaining an urban aesthetic of rhythm and dance. McLaughlin’s modified ‘scooped-fret’ guitar allows him to articulate raga with authenticity and accuracy in unison with violinist L. Shankar whilst they trade melodies and improvisations, which weave between a multitudes of culturally diverse vocabularies.
Listening from a western perspective, Shakti plays upon harmonic and melodic movements that hold familiarity whilst tensions and resolutions take place in disarming and unfamiliar places. The ‘world music’ or ‘world fusion’ genre is one met with a certain degree of criticism and could perhaps be characterized as a little ‘naff’. ‘Natural Elements’ plays into a more authentic definition of the genre; one that subverts musical components that are culturally disconnected and fuses them to create a natural sense of unity.
Words by Josh Kreusler.