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  • Jonathan Widran

JW VIBE Review: Lilac Skies - Shambhu

In pondering the joyous and thoughtful inspirational melodies, intoxicating rhythms and deeply soulful and intricate guitar work we hear throughout Shambhu’s fourth and latest new age-oriented masterwork Lilac Skies, it might help those uninitiated to his majestic flow to get some preconceived notions out of the way. Though he’s won a sea of Zone Music Reporter (ZMR) music awards since his 2010 debut album Sacred Love, hit the top spot on the ZMR New Age chart, and worked extensively with legendary genre producer Will Ackerman, he is not your typical new age artist by any stretch.

Growing up, he loved the Beatles and Bill Evans, studied jazz and blues, written scores for off Broadway shows, traveled to Brazil and immersed in its music, and played or recorded throughout his multi-faceted career with everyone from Carlos Santana and Paul McCandless to Eugene Friesen, Tony Levin, Jeff Haynes, late E-Street Band legend Clarence Clemons and Grammy winning drummer/mega-producer Narada Michael Walden.

In his 20’s, he became a modern-day monk, following the teachings of guru Sri Chinmoy with Santana, Walden and John McLaughlin. Discovering a higher purpose for his music, he realized it was all about conveying the richness of his inner experience, an opportunity to tap into something higher and deeper. Thus, his gravitation towards the new age genre and his artistic rebirth as Shambhu, which in the Hindu religion is one of the names for Lord Shiva, the aspect of his personality that connects with creation.

Shambhu’s official bio begins with the idea that he “transforms stillness and silence into calming sounds.” The colorful (literally) promo materials for Lilac Skies informs us that the album title means infinite love, the color of love. And his mission as stated is: “This music is dedicated to lifting us up inside. Relax, groove, dance, enjoy and love.” The collection’s ten tracks will no doubt alternately inspire you to do all these things. Yet the lovely pastel packaging – and its description as “soothing guitar for a peaceful world” - barely hints at a sweeping, emotionally gripping experience that offers lush ambience and easy flow (like most new age recordings) in addition to dynamic, often crackling energy (though never over the top) steeped in his multitude of passions for rock, blues, soul and jazz.

Lilac Skies will create a more peaceful world, but with music that balances its spa-friendly relaxation abilities with the energy and rhythms of a fully lived and engaged life and the universe’s most intensely felt vibrations. Shambhu creates this magical mix with a vibrant ensemble featuring Frank Martin (keyboards), Celso Alberti (drums and percussion), Kai Echkardt (bass), Premik Russell Tubbs (flute, EWI and lap steel guitar), Alec Hamilton (e-keyboards) and Kristin Hoffmann (voice).

The opening title track begins with the cool, crisp meets silky duality of his acoustic and electric guitars and as it evolves into a gently percussive, electric tour de force romps along in a swirl with dreamy flute and soaring ambience. The following song, the gorgeous acoustic gem “Unspoken Words,” is more in the meditational zone, yet his creative string stylings reflect the intrinsic musical realities of an artist who has studied jazz improvisation.

Lilac Skies offers this kind of inviting balance throughout, from soulfully grooving flights of fancy like “Dochas” (empowered by a transcendent flute-guitar duality), the soaring, organ filled jazz blues jam “Open Your Heart Sky” and whimsical, rock-flavored electric guitar/sax exploration “Inspired by the Night” with more stark, yet no less harmonically provocative pieces like the hypnotic “Basis of It All” and graceful, atmospheric “Pondering When.”

If you’ve never heard Shambhu (and please get plugged into his vibe quickly!), a good frame of reference is the works that Higher Octave Music put out in the 90s, when veteran rockers like Craig Chaquico and Neal Schon cooled the rock and roll fire just a bit to emerge as new age/contemporary instrumental titans of the era. Sometimes the most peaceful worlds can be created by the most powerful of jazz and rock and roll hearts.

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