When one of the greatest guitarists, musicians and composers of our times offers you a free new album during a time of distress, its a good idea to listen. That there little in the way of traditional guitar sounds on this album is not entirely a surprise to me. That doesn't make it any less good. Actually, it is quite fabulous.
Just as the Covad 19 Coronavirus lockdown was happening, a message came around on social media from John McLaughlin -- he, the founder of The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti, who came to international fame coming out of the early 60s British blues/rock/R'nB explosion and into Miles Davis' legendary late 60s bands that recorded the landmark recordings In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.
Mr. McLaughlin's message was profound and heartfelt as the fear was settling in that we were in for a strange and scary journey ahead:
"In view of the current situation world wide with Corona Virus and the fact that we are obliged to spend more time at home, we would like to offer our friends the free download of the new album 'Is that So'? until end of April 2020 from Abstract Logix. Enjoy the music and stay happy and healthy!"
Six years in the making, Is That So? -- which was released last Fall -- is a deep musical collaboration with prolific Indian composer and vocalist Shankar Mahadevan. Joining the duo is McLaughlin's longtime friend and collaborator -- since they founded the groundbreaking group Shakti in the early '70s, -- Ustad Zakir Hussain on the tabla.
At this point, I'll return to the official info on Mr. McLaughlin's Bandcamp page and website site to describe the concept of this recording:
"Shankar and I had been touring with Shakti and I was constantly inspired by his superb voice and gigantic talent. Even though I had studied the theory and practice of Indian music for years, I remain a 'Western' musician and one aspect of Western music is the magic of harmony', says John. 'From the outset in the early 1970's, I constantly researched the possibilities of integrating harmony into the traditions of North and South India while at the same time keeping as close as possible to the melodic rules of the Raga system. However, the idea I mention above, was to abandon the rules of the Raga system completely and apply my own western harmonic liberty to the amazing voice of Shankar Mahadevan"
Is That So? is thus a wonderful meeting of the minds between musicians exploring cultures East to West, taking us new places along the way.
Click here to watch a brief "making of" teaser video for a taste of what to expect. Indeed, the album proceeds initially sounding like beautiful ambient neo new age recording with a glorious Indian voice singing and then instead of escalating into a soul groove or standard percussion, Hussein's brilliant Tablas kick in as the music -- with guitar synthesizers and other textures -- washes over you in rich waves.
You can't really help but just sit and listen, close your eyes and drift away to another place.
The free download of Is That So? (available through the end of April) is a surprisingly rich sounding listening experience even in CD quality (AIFF files in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz).
There are also CD and vinyl packages with all sorts of neat bonus available from the artists, so please do support them (click on the album title anywhere in this review to get to the artist's Bandcamp page or here from their label, AbstractLogix).
With that I'll close with thanks to John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan and Zakir Hussain for creating and offering this lovely healing gem to us all.
Peace to you all in these strange and scary pandemic times.
Be well. Be healthy. Be safe.