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The Essential John McLaughlin

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Album Review

While it would be utterly foolish to consider a two-disc set by guitarist John McLaughlin as anything other than a sample of the wildly diverse career he's enjoyed since the early '60s, it should be noted and underscored that what Legacy does with this set is to provide a solid look at not only the man's gifts but at the way he's employed them, exploited them, and let them get the best of him for the past 40-plus years. There are 23 cuts spread across these discs, and they are cross-licensed from a number of different labels — this should always be done, and it seems that Legacy is the only shop that does this consistently well. The collection begins at the beginning: way back in 1963 when McLaughlin and his musical partners in crime, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, played Sonny Rollins' "Doxy" in the Graham Bond Organisation. The tune swings, even if it is a little stiff, but these were very young cats who were as dedicated to "getting it right" as possible. This gives way to the rather startling contrast of "Spectrum," played as a member of Tony Williams Lifetime with organist Larry Young as well as Williams (and predating McLaughlin's tenure with Miles Davis); there's "Marbles," from his Devotion album where the guitarist and Young played with drummer Buddy Miles. It's an interesting piece where it occurs here because it exists in the gap between McLaughlin's leaving Miles Davis and before playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It's a great cut, but it shines more for Young's work than the leader's. "Right Off," from Davis' Jack Johnson album, is here — at least a 17-plus-minute edit of it — and it walks the same basic terrain that "Marbles" does, though it is far funkier and knottier. Rather than just jump into the Mahavishnu territory, McLaughlin's work with saxophonist Joe Farrell and then with Carla Bley is highlighted here as well, spreading the color and texture to the corners a bit more. Already, he was a ten-year veteran of the scene and had become a very diverse member of it. Disc one closes with three tunes from the various early incarnations of Mahavishnu, from the debut Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire, and then on to an excerpt of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" with Carlos Santana.But disc one tells the familiar story, despite its ornament and diversity. The place where it begins to stray across many paths seemingly simultaneously is on disc two. While the second incarnation of Mahavishnu is where it begins — with the cut "Wings of Karma," from Apocalypse — where the voice and timbre of McLaughlin's insistent muse is making itself heard. The track "India," from 1975 and performed with the Indian trio Shakti (Zakir Hussain, Lakshminarayana Shankar, and T.H. Vinayakram), marks the beginning of an entirely new mode of exploration for the guitarist. And so it goes, through the new technologically savvy, fused-out jazz on Electric Dreams in 1978, the more restrained but no less mechanical Electric Guitarist in 1979 (two tunes including a reading of the standard "My Foolish Heart," which is drenched in it), and the mess that was Trio of Doom with Jaco Pastorius and Tony Williams. This is easily the best cut from that collaboration. There is a track from the Guitar Trio album with Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia, one from Palle Mikkelborg's Aura experiment with Miles once more, and cuts from Belo Horizonte, recorded for Warner in 1981, and "Wayne's Way," from Industrial Zen in 2006. In other words, the strange back and forth and continuously divergent paths McLaughlin has taken — for good or ill — is represented here by many of his finest performances. Even if that assertion is arguable, the one that isn't is that he is one of the most celebrated, widely regarded guitarists in jazz history, and one that helped to change the music forever in the same way that Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall did before him. This may be a smattering, but it is one that will get you on your way to discovering what you want to of his work, while leaving behind the rest.

Biography

Born: 04 January 1942 in Yorkshire, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

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...
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The Essential John McLaughlin, John McLaughlin
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  • 11,99 €
  • Genres: Raíces, Music, Latino, Jazz, Fusion, Hard Bop
  • Released: 21 May 2007

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