The title and cover of this CD are hilarious. To call John McLaughlin an Electric Guitarist is to call James Brown funky and the Atlantic Ocean wet. With Hendrix pressed firmly into the pages of history and Clapton nodding off in complacency, McLaughlin has ascended to preeminence with little debate. He has been prolific and mercurial, a constantly restless, evolving prodigy. From the onset he blurred the barrier between rock and jazz, and played a major role in the birth of fusion. Although Miles Davis may have "booked the room," McLaughlin and Tony Williams probably influenced Davis as much as he influenced them. If you are not already familiar with The Tony Williams Lifetime recordings, featuring McLaughlin, do yourself a favor. McLaughlin is simply on fire.
The manic intensity of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, which followed, was at times more technical than musical, but revelatory all the same. My Goal's Beyond, (if you can find it), shows McLaughlin drifting into a love affair with Indian music. As with other virtuoso performers, one is occasionally transfixed by the skill level, losing sight of content in the process. This is always a mistake with McLaughlin, almost equivalent to punishing him for being brilliant. McLaughlin is a soulful artist, never frivolous, always striving to find meaning and share it.
Recording this CD must have been like a college reunion for him, an opportunity to reunite with dear friends. The line-up includes major league hitters like Billy Cobham, Jerry Goodman, Carlos Santana, David Sanborn, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Jack DeJohnette, Jack Bruce, and Tony Williams. Wow. Are You The One? Are You The One? features the dream-team trio of McLaughlin, Bruce, and Williams, a true kicker. Friendship showcases the familiar and pleasing "space patrol" jam phrasing of Carlos Santana. They're all great, but the track that instantly snuck inside me is Do You Hear The Voices That You Left Behind? This tribute to John Coltrane, built on his celebrated composition Giant Steps, evokes a "top-down convertible sound" that might be described as "smooth-jazz" if that wretched term weren't an oxymoron.
In John McLaughlin - Electric Guitarist, you find a master artist in complete control of his instrument and his vision - pure joy.