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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.

Customer Reviews


i know that this can be argued a thousand times over, but if you are interested in discovering what the term "jazz-rock" is all about, then finding this release truly is "essential." it is, in my opinion, perhaps THE paramount example of the fusion genre. of course people will tell you all about the certain classics, (like those of miles davis and all of his extensive alumni, as well as jaco pastorius, jeff beck, steely dan, herbie hancock, tony williams, jack dejohnette, john scofield, brian auger, and various collectives like weather report, mahavishnu, trio of doom, headhunters, cream) or touch even on the quirks of (frank zappa, guru guru, jean-luc ponty, amon duul II, bela fleck, faust, jane, and even certain santana and hendrix references) as well as note the modern scene (that includes the likes of galactic, charlie hunter, medeski martin and wood, benevento-russo, jaga jazzist, greyboy, james taylor, tortoise and soulive). but all those expenditures and literally THOUSANDS of related musical moments aside, i feel like listening to pieces like spectrum, marbles, right off, rawalpindi, a love supreme and others on this album is the perfect way to represent what it is to be "jazz-rock." there are beautiful moments, as well as straight-ahead intense rockers, and even after times like the 17-min edit of right off, i felt myself only wishing for more. i'm not sure why i felt the need to write so much here, as the extensive official review is really all you need. while listening, words that come to mind definitely include funky, knotty, fused-out, burners, rockers, etc. start here, start now.

Jazz Fusion

in the early seventies, when fusion was begining to rocket, john was the string king. his speed, technique, tone, and chops and just plain volume have rarely ben compared to in the last 35 years.


I saw him play a number of times in the 70s. The original Mahavishnu lineup, The One Truth Band, Shakti, etc. I have most of the work on this set, but I don't have Marbles. That's the first tune that caught my attention via a local college radio station back in the day. I wish it was available as an individual tune, and not "album only". :(


Born: January 4, 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 his best moments -- whether as a solo artist or bandmember -- represent some of fusion's greatest recordings. McLaughlin was born January...
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  • $14.99
  • Genres: Raíces, Music, Latino, Jazz, Fusion, Hard Bop
  • Released: May 21, 2007

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