Tuesday, October 15, 2013

John McLaughlin ... Risk, Magic and Mystery

John McLaughlin Fusion World Music
John McLaughlin

He’s probably the greatest musician-to date. One of fusion's most virtuosic guitar soloists, John McLaughlin placed his blazing speed in the service of a searching spiritual passion that has kept his music evolving and open to new influences. Whether shredding on electric or simmering quietly on acoustic, McLaughlin's intensity and underappreciated versatility have nearly always kept his playing vital, and his best moments -- whether as a solo artist or band member -- represent some of fusion's greatest recordings.

McLaughlin was born January 4, 1942, in Yorkshire, England, and began playing guitar at age 11. Initially attracted to blues and swing, he worked with British artists like Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, Brian Auger, and Ginger Baker. McLaughlin formed his own band in 1968, and recorded the excellent debut Extrapolation in early 1969. Later that year he moved to New York to join Tony Williams' groundbreaking fusion band Lifetime, and appeared on the classic Emergency! Through Williams, McLaughlin was invited to join Miles Davis' band, and became an important part of fusion landmarks like In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. In 1970, wanting to explore acoustic and Eastern music, McLaughlin recorded the classic My Goal's Beyond; he soon left Davis, and after one further solo album, Devotion, McLaughlin spent some time woodshedding.

He re-emerged in 1971 as leader of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a seminal band that did much to define and popularize early jazz-rock fusion, as evidenced by the albums The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire, and Visions of the Emerald Beyond. Pausing to record Love Devotion Surrender with Carlos Santana in 1972, McLaughlin led Mahavishnu until 1975. Returning to spiritual preoccupations on My Goal's Beyond, he then formed Shakti, which fused acoustic jazz with Indian music over the course of three albums. McLaughlin returned to his solo career in the late '70s, forming a backing outfit called the One Truth Band, and also recording the guitar trio albums Friday Night in San Francisco and Passion, Grace & Fire with fellow fusion burner Al di Meola and flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia. As the '80s went along, McLaughlin experimented with classical-jazz hybrid composing; there was also a short-lived Mahavishnu reunion in the mid-'80s.
In the 1990s McLaughlin continued to record steadily in both electric and acoustic groups. He signed to Verve, where he would remain for 13 years. Some of the more notable albums from that period include the acoustic Time Remembered: John McLaughlin Plays Bill Evans in 1993; After the Rain with Elvin Jones and Joey DeFrancesco in 1995; and 1996's The Promise, which featured the guitarist in a number of settings, including a reunion with his acoustic trio partners di Meola and de Lucia, and a trio with DeFrancesco and drummer Dennis Chambers. The drummer was also a part of McLaughlin's final album of the decade, Heart of Things, a furious bout of electric jazz.

The 21st century found McLaughlin in another nostalgic mood, releasing Remember Shakti: The Believer, a live set featuring the guitarist (playing electric guitar) with electric mandolinist U. Shrinivas, kanjira and ghatam player V. Selvaganesh, and legendary tabla player Zakir Hussain. While it wasn't a Shakti album proper, it nonetheless echoed that group's intricate and amazing rhythmic and harmonic breakthroughs. The group toured and released Saturday Night in Bombay a year later. McLaughlin's Euro-classical-leaning Thieves and Poets appeared in 2003. In 2004, WEA in Germany issued the massive 17-CD box set of McLaughlin's Montreux Concerts, which featured performances recorded between 1974 and 1996. Industrial Zen, released in 2006, was a mixed-bag recording where the guitarist's ambitions ran wild. It was his final album for Verve.

John McLaughlin World Music Guitar
John McLaughlin

In 2008 McLaughlin issued Floating Point, an extension of many of the concepts on Industrial Zen, on the Abstract Logix imprint. The final track on that album was entitled "Five Peace Band"; it served as the name for a super group assembled by McLaughlin and Chick Corea for a one-off world tour. The other members were saxophonist Kenny Garrett, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and bassist Christian McBride; an album of the same name was released in 2009 on Concord. To the One, a studio album with his 4th Dimension band was released on Abstract Logix in the spring of 2010. McLaughlin resurfaced two years later with Now Here This, featuring new 4th Dimension drummer, Ranjit Barot.

"I'm a guitar player that's what I am primarily, that's what I'll always be," McLaughlin has been quoted as saying. "(And) I'm an eternal learner. I don't want to stop learning because I feel that no matter what I've done, I'm really just beginning again. I don't think I'll ever stop learning."

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Zakir Hussain - Hands that Speak

Ustad Zakir Hussain, the legendary tabla maestro
Ustad Zakir Hussain, the legendary tabla Maestro

He needs no introduction. He is, undoubtedly, the best tabla player in the world. With numerous national and international awards and accolades to his credit, he is a national treasure, not only in India, but worldwide. His consistent and brilliant performances mark him as India's greatest classical musicians. This genius is Ustad Zakir Hussain, the legendary tabla maestro who has contributed largely to the field of percussion and music at international levels. Being the youngest percussion to be honored with civilian awards from the Indian Government, this exceptionally talented and highly celebrated musician is a music encyclopedia in him. Since childhood, Zakir Hussain has continuously imparted his formidable knowledge and study to the music world, and has not let it rest till date. Along with his legendary father and teacher, Ustad Allarakha, he has elevated the status of his instrument. A favorite accompanist for India’s leading classical musicians and dancers, Zakir is also widely recognized as a chief architect of the world music movement with his many historic collaborations, including Shakti, Remember Shakti, Diga, Planet Drum and his ever-changing musical feast, Masters of Percussion. In summer 2012, Zakir was named Best Percussionist in the Downbeat Critics’ Poll.

Early Life

Zakir Hussain was born in Mumbai, Maharashtra, to the legendary and established tabla player, Alla Rakha, and Bavi Begum. He attained his schooling from St. Michael's High School, Mahim and later completed his graduation from St. Xavier's, Mumbai. Being a born prodigy, Hussain started touring the world for his tabla performances, ever since he turned 12. His international career began in 1970 from the United States, wherein he had over 150 concert dates a year to handle.

Career in Music
Zakir Hussain has worked with many western and Indian artists but out of the most notably known productions of his, the highly celebrated are the Beatles. After he set his footsteps on foreign lands in 1970, there was no looking back for Hussain. In 1971, he collaborated with the American psychedelic band called Shanti to produce an album. He even made an appearance on George Harrison's album titled 'Living in the Material World' in 1973. He joined hands with John McLaughlin to form the band Shakti and work on Indo-Jazz projects, which proved fruitful. This partnership resulted in the production of several albums, namely, 'Shakti' (1975), 'A Handful of Beauty' (1976), and 'Natural Elements' (1977). Hussain has even worked with the eminent musicologist and drummer Mickey Hart on various projects, beginning with Hart's first solo album 'Rolling Thunder'. This partnership worked well, which was evident from the numerous albums they created together, like 'Diga', 'At The Edge', 'Planet Drum', 'Mickey Hart's Mystery Box', 'Supralingua', 'Spirit into Sound', and 'Global Drum Project'.

The honor of Padma Shri, one of India's civilian honors, made Hussain the youngest percussion to be awarded with this prestigious title. In April 1991, Hussain became one of the youngest musicians to be felicitated with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award by the President of India in recognition from India's governing cultural institute. Besides, Hussain is also fortunate to have been associated with several bands of Hart, including 'Diga Rhythm Band', 'Planet Drum', 'Bembe Orishas', and 'Global Drum Project'. The first album released by Planet Drum went on to win the first Grammy Award in the category 'Best World Music Album' in 1992. After a break of about 20 years, Hussain rejoined again with McLaughlin in the band Remember Shakti; thus, coming up with prolific and highly acclaimed albums - 'Remember Shakti' (1999), 'The Believer' (2000), 'Saturday Night in Bombay' (2001), 'Live at 38th Montreux Jazz Festival' (2004), and 'Live at Miles Davis Hall'(2004). In 2002, Hussain was yet again felicitated with the third highest civilian honor, Padma Bhushan.

Ustad Zakir Hussain, the legendary tabla maestro
Zakir Hussain tabla maestro

Career in Films
Apart from delivering live performances and recording music albums, Hussain has also gained fame in the field of films. He starred and composed music for the 1983 film 'Heat and Dust'. This was followed by composing, performing, and acting in the Malayalam film 'Vanaprastham' as an Indian music advisor, in 1999. The same year, the movie was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI Fest). The film went on to win awards in 2000 at Istanbul International Film Festival (Turkey), Bombay International Film Festival (India), and National Film Awards (India). He has composed soundtracks for 'In Custody', 'The Mystic Masseur', and 'Mr. and Mrs. Iyer', apart from playing tabla on the soundtracks of 'Apocalypse Now', 'Little Buddha', and many others.

Personal Life
Zakir Hussain has been married to the distinguished Kathak dancer and student of Sitara Devi, Antonia Minnecola, an Italian American. The couple has two daughters, Anisa Qureshi and Isabella Qureshi. Anisa is a graduate from UCLA and works as a filmmaker and video producer. His younger daughter, Isabella is doing her majors in dance in Manhattan. Hussain has two younger brothers, Fazal Qureshi and Taufiq Qureshi, both noted percussionists, and a younger sister, Khurshid Aulia nee Qureshi.

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