Monday, May 17, 2010

Guitar Week: John McLaughlin

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.

John McLaughlin (guitar; b. 1942)
The Essential John McLaughlin (Columbia/Legacy)

One the most technically brilliant guitarists of the last 50 years, John McLaughlin has shown the ability to move throughout the sub-genres of jazz but always reminding us that his style of fusion is always evolving. You may only know the name John McLaughlin but I assure you, you've heard his playing. I have to admit during my youth I really didn't give McLaughlin that much attention outside of his work with Miles Davis. I think I just wasn't ready for his diverse interests and ability to play at breakneck speed.

As a youngster, the British born, McLaughlin performed with the legends Georgie Fame, Ginger Baker and Brian Auger before moving to the U.S. and working in Tony Williams Lifetime band in addition to making some of most challenging and legendary recordings with Miles Davis (Bitches Brew, In A Silent Way and A Tribute To Jack Johnson). He would also record two phenomenal solo albums during this short period of 1969 - 1970. Along with solo albums McLaughlin would go on to from two incredible and influential fusion bands during the 70s in Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti which focus of the blistering combinations of jazz & rock from the former and a well focused Indian influence of the latter.

These groups and recording are definitely on par with other highly important fusion bands of the time period, Nucleus, Return To Forever and Weather Report. McLaughlin with every record since has shown the ability to go from gentle acoustic strumming to fiery eclecticism on electric guitar with astounding degrees. Some other important recordings were done with Carlos Santana, Chick Corea and the amazing trio Trio Of Doom (with Tony Williams and Jaco Pastorius). Trio Of Doom (Columbia) recorded one album but it is one of most important albums of 70s fusion and you must own it. In the 80s and 90s he would team with various musicians including Al de Meola and Paco de Lucia for a series of great acoustic sets.

A large chuck of the aforementioned and more are included on The Essential John McLaughlin (Columbia/Legacy). The Essential John McLaughlin contains almost everything you will need to understand this extraordinary guitarist and his genre-bending talent. He has blending Eastern and Western themes with rich technique and ingenuity that many other musicians just cannot match. This is very clear on tracks like "India," "Marbles," "A Love Supreme (with Carlos Santana)" and "Wayne's Way." For me this is a great overview/introduction to learning more about McLaughlin and all the various groups he has performed in as well as his solo material.

John McLaughlin's most recent album, To The One (Abstarct Logix) with his new band 4th Dimension is no different. It continues his wonderful ability of spellbinding guitar work with stunning interplay with his new band members who have been touring with him for the last four years. The album moves fierce opener of "Discovery" through the mid tempo rhythms of "Special Beings," and "Lost And Found" only to return with the high energy of "Recovery". This is an album that continues the East/West legacy he has paved for five decades with even more amazing results then recent recordings.

Someone with such a large and diverse catalog, The Essential John McLaughlin and To The One does a great job of summing up the best moments of his illustrious career in addition to providing a good understanding of fusion (outside of the Miles Davis material) this is a nice place to start.

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