Monday, May 30, 2016

John Mclaughlin - 1978- 1979 [2010] "Electric Guitarist" & "Electric Dreams"


Digitally remastered two CD set containing a pair of albums from the legendary guitarist and Mahavishnu Orchestra leader: Electric Guitarist and Electric Dreams (both released in 1979). Ex-Graham Bond and Brian Auger guitarist McLaughlin's career took off when he went to the States in 1969 to join Tony Williams' Lifetime. From then on, he became one of the most acclaimed Jazz/Rock guitarists of the '70s and beyond.

Since both of these post-Shakti albums feature the word "electric" in their titles, it seems that guitarist McLaughlin wanted to emphasize his more plugged-in side to those who might not have followed along on three previous releases featuring his acoustic world music band. He also thumbs through his impressive phone book to call in some of the cream of the 1977 crop of jazz fusionists to help him out on Electric Guitarist, a true return to form. Ex-Mahavishnu members Jerry Goodman and Billy Cobham assist in kicking things off just like in the old days with "New York on My Mind," a tune that could have been an outtake from his earlier Mahavishnu Orchestra work. Also along for the ride is Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, David Sanborn, Carlos Santana, Jack Bruce, and four legendary drummers including Cobham, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, and Narada Michael Walden. Unfortunately, the credits don't specify who plays on which track (well-written liner notes would help there), but anyone familiar with the distinctive styles of these artists can easily pick them out. McLaughlin is in fine form throughout, especially when playing clean, staccato, bent notes on the ballad "Every Tear from Every Eye." The majority of the selections stay in a more subtle but amped-up groove as McLaughlin shifts from dreamy to a faster, more straight-ahead tempo on the seven-minute "Do You Hear the Voices that You Left Behind?" A duet with Billy Cobham on "Phenomenon: Compulsion" provides the set's most frantic fireworks as both musicians air out their chops on a breathless, galloping piece with some of the guitarist's most furious picking. Electric Dreams features McLaughlin's One Truth band on an album from the same year. The same players back him throughout, so the sound isn't quite as diverse. There is still a nice balance of ballads and burners, and some tunes that mix both such as "Desire and the Comforter," which is pushed by Fernando Saunders' amplified fretless bass, a ringer for Jaco Pastorius. Saunders takes the collection's only vocal on "Love and Understanding," undercut by well-meaning but schlock-heavy lyrics about being one with the universe as McLaughlin does his best Santana impersonation. The boat rights itself for the two final fusion numbers that find the group locking in and McLaughlin spinning off sweet, sharp lines that leave no doubt as to how exceptional a guitarist he is. BGO's remastering is clean and these titles make perfect companions on a single disc with almost 80 minutes of prime, very electric John McLaughlin music.

Track List:

01 New York In My Mind
02 Friendship
03 Every Tear From Every Eye
04 Do You Hear The Voices That You Left Behind?
05 Are You The One? Are You The One?
06 Phenomenon Compulsion
07 My Foolish Heart
08 Guardian Angels
09 Miles Davis
10 Electric Dreams
11 Electric Sighs
12 Desire And The Comforter
13 Love And Understanding
14 Singing Earth
15 The Dark Prince
16 The Unknown Dissident


John Mclaughlin - 1978 "Electric Guitarist"

If you listen to McLaughlin's version of "My Foolish Heart" from 1978's Johnny McLaughlin - Electric Guitarist, it's hard to logically explain how the same guitarist had also produced the sounds found on so many of his earlier records. It's hard to reconcile this tune with his approach on his debut Extrapolation, Miles' Tribute to Jack Johnson, Larry Coryell's Spaces, and various recordings by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti. None of those earlier performances would have prepared you for McLaughlin's beautiful treatment of Victor Young and Nat Washington's jazz standard. His warm and serene arrangement sounds like the antithesis of what McLaughlin was known for.

Electric Guitarist was meant to be a comeback record for McLaughlin. Columbia Records was none too pleased that McLaughlin had produced three straight records with his Indian acoustic world music group Shakti. These records would eventually reach legendary status, but at the time they sold embarrassingly poorly. There was hope at Columbia that Electric Guitarist would bring John McLaughlin back to the top of the record sales heap. In the end, although it sold well, it did not sell as many records as Columbia had hoped.

Electric Guitarist features many of McLaughlin's contemporaries, including Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden, Carlos Santana, Jerry Goodman, and David Sanborn. There is not one weak cut on the entire album. Electric Guitarist also marks the first recorded use of McLaughlin's scalloped fretboard electric guitar, an idea from his Shakti experience that gave him a brand new sound. McLaughlin was able to bend notes and even chords beyond limits. This technique opened up a whole new vocabulary for his compositions.

Key cuts to play really loud include a duet with Billy Cobham, "Phenomenon-Compulsion," and "Are You the One? Are You the One?," featuring Tony Williams and Jack Bruce. This tune harkens back to the great Tony Williams Lifetime that featured McLaughlin, Bruce and the late Larry Young on organ. Even though, for obvious reasons, Young couldn't make this gig, he would have loved this tune. "Do You Hear The Voices You Left Behind," based upon the changes of Coltrane's "Giant Steps," is an unrelenting jazz force that McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette play for all they are worth.

Many all-star recordings do not live up to their promise. This album is not one of them. John McLaughlin- Electric Guitarist was the last important recording of the initial jazz-fusion movement.

Musicians - Electric Guitarist

- John McLaughlin / electric guitar
- Jack Bruce / bass on track 5
- Billy Cobham / drums on tracks 1 & 6
- Stanley Clark / acoustic bass on track 4
- Chick Corea / piano and mini-moog on track 4
- Tom Coster / organ on track 2
- Jack DeJohnette / drums on track 4
- Stu Goldberg / electric piano, organ and mini-moog synthesizer on track 1
- Jerry Goodman / violin on track 1
- Neil Jason / bass on track 2
- Alphonso Johnson / Taurus Bass Pedals and Bass on track 3
- Alyrio Lima / percussion on track 2
- Armando Peraza / congas on track 2
- Patrice Rushen / piano on track 3
- David Sanborn / alto saxophone on track 3
- Carlos Santana / electric guitar on track 2
- Fernando Saunders / bass on track 1
- Tony Smith / drums on track 3
- Michael Walden / drums on track 2
- Tony Williams / drums on track 5

John Mclaughlin - 1979 "Electric Dreams"

 The last three minutes of "Desire and the Comforter" from Electric Dreams say it all about John McLaughlin. He just tears apart his electric guitar with cascades of funk, blues, rock, jazz, and Far-Eastern scales. Every strike of a string has individual meaning. His guitar soars above the chord changes and captures the spirit of the music. He leaves space (or texture) where it should be left. Like no other guitarist on earth, John McLaughlin knows when not to play, despite claims from those who say he plays too many notes. And even though there are a million notes a minute on this tune, the spaces in between the notes create the epiphany.

McLaughlin recorded Electric Dreams with the One Truth Band, which also included L. Shankar on violin, Tony Smith on drums, Stu Goldberg on keyboards, Fernando Saunders on bass, and Alyrio Lima handling various percussion duties. The OTB was a much more rhythmic unit than JM's previous bands, and although its members may not have been the "master" musicians like those who comprised The Mahavishnu Orchestra, they certainly knew how to "funk a groove". Electric Dreams is full of such grooves and infectious tunes. Sure, we could have lived without the God-awful "Love and Understanding". But Electric Dreams offers the beautiful "Electric Dreams, Electric Sighs", featuring JM on banjo! The classic “Dark Prince” is a brooding, straight-ahead jazz-fusion homage to Miles that overshadows the album’s other Miles tribute piece, “Miles Davis."

On this recording, McLaughlin used a guitar that had a scalloped fret board. The concave spaces allowed McLaughlin to stretch notes beyond believability. A main component of the band's sound, Shankar's far-eastern violin, does seem ill placed at times, and Goldberg's synth patches are outdated in some areas as well. But, these issues actually endow the album with a bit of charm. The veterans Smith and Saunders make for a very steady rhythm section. Lima is more effective in concert than on this recording. Saxophonist David Sanborn, a guest star on several McLaughlin albums, makes a more than welcome guest appearance on the haunting “Unknown Dissident”.

The mix wasn't always successful. But on the whole, Electric Dreams offers some of the best composing and playing of McLaughlin's career and has been unfairly overlooked.

Musicians - Electric Dreams:

- John McLaughlin / Electric guitar, 6 + 12 + 13 string acoustic guitars and banjo
- L. Shankar / Acoustic and electric violin
- Stu Goldberg / Electric piano, Moog synthesizer with Steiner Parker modifications, Prophet synthesizer, Hammond organ
- Fernando Sanders - Fender bass, acoustic bass, vocals on "Love And Understanding"
- Tony Smith / Drums and vocals
- Alyrio Lima / Percussion, amplified Chinese cymbals
- David Sanborn / Alto saxophone on "The Unknown Dissident"

6 comments:

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