||Boasting one of the longest lists of accompanists to ever grace an Ackerman-Nelsen recording affair, guitarist Shambhu's Sacred Love – Feel the Journey is a cornucopia of moods and styles yet is unified by the lead artist's dexterous and talented hands on his instrument. Sacred Love showcases not just Shambhu's skill and artistry but also his diverse composing ability as the album touches on everything from uptempo jazzy pieces to gentle, reflective tone poems to meditative quasi-ambient numbers, and a dash of world beat and world fusion influence as well.
As mentioned above, the list of guest artists who contributed to this album is a veritable "who's who" of top instrumentalists, including (but not limited to) bassists Tony Levin and Michael Manring, cellist Eugene Friesen, English horn player Jill Haley, flugelhorn player Jeff Oster, and violinist Charlie Bisharat. Of course, Ackerman chimes in on guitar (and piano!), too, and there are no fewer than eight more people who all contribute – and contribute solidly too, I might add – to the musical wonders that fill this top-notch CD.
With the amount of diversity present throughout the twelve tracks, it would be hard to make a single comparative statement, but Shambhu's more energetic music (such as the opening rouser, Together, or the pan-African flavors of Natural Moment) closely resembles that of the ground-breaking fusion band, Shadowfax. Other songs, though, may evoke comparisons to Bruce BecVar (Maui Breeze and Hide and Seek) while some of the plaintive tracks, such as Revelation and Imagine could easily be Will Ackerman himself, such is the high quality of Shambhu's deft touch and gentle, carefully nuanced playing.
Musically, the album's overall style and "feel" shifts starting with the tenth track, Shiva Grove, which melds the barest hint of East Indian influence with a strong undercurrent of sensual sax-driven jazz (the sax is played by George Brooks). Brooks, flutist Ravichandra Kulur (flutist with Ravi and Anoushka Shankar), and Shambhu execute this three-fold pirouette with grace and a fluidity that is smoky and sensuous. This is followed by the more overt world-beat influenced Call to Spirit, a slow-paced meditative number with an undercurrent of tamboura drone and featuring Shambhu on guitar and wordless vocal, along with cello, flute, percussion (Jeff Haynes), and four guest vocalists. Kulur's liner credit merely lists "flute" but I have to believe it is a bansuri or, if not, it sure sounds like one. Kulur's flute flits and dances in the exotic air, sometimes exchanging the lead with Shambhu. The closing track, Humility, is an even more straightforward Indian affair, once again featuring a tamboura drone, but the only instruments are guitar and flute and there are no vocals. Here, the flute is played in a less playful and more flowing style, while Shambhu's playing intermixes some low-key but occasionally rapid note picking with a repeated strumming refrain. The music’s overall effect is one of warmth, compassion and a feeling of peace and contentment.
As a final added value feature, there is an inner booklet (inside a sleeve in the digipack) which features extensive liner notes from the artist. As if that wasn't enough, listeners are directed to explore the YouTube "webisodes" which document the making of the album.
As I mentioned earlier, despite the variety of the music on Sacred Love, Shambhu's guitar playing brings everything together nicely so that the CD as a whole "plays through" remarkably well (something which I have found is common on Ackerman-produced efforts in recent years). Sacred Love is one of the better releases in 2010, a year which had more than its fair share of great solid albums.