on 4 May 2008
Well into his 60s the illustrious John Mclaughlin is as creative as ever. Having made music history with Miles Davis, Lifetime, Mahavishnu, Shakti he never rests on his laurels but continue to explore and expand his musical universe.
And in many ways is this new release a mixture of everything from his past yet given a new twist. Sounding most of all like the criminally underrated 80s version of Mahavishnu Orchestra, not least thanks to John's widespread use of the guitarsynth.
The album is recorded in India with a host of talented (mostly young) Indian musicians - some of which, like John himself, also participates on the highly interesting "Miles From India" tribute-album. The core on all tracks consiting of the excellent and rather Trilok Gurtu like drummer Ranjit Barat, percussionist Sivamani, the rather discreet Louiz Banks on keyborards and the stunning young French bassvirtuoso Hadrien Feraud. While McLaughlin's claim that he is the 'new Pastorius' might be slightly exaggerated, Feraud is none the less a formidable force on the low end.
On each track except "Maharina" these are supplemented by a host of guest soloists, all young Indian supertalents except for the fine, lyrical sopranosax of George Brooks. All of them showing the stunning ability of Indian musicians to combine the virtuosic with the profound and the spiritual. The fluteplaying of Shasanti on "Off The One" and Naveen Kumar on "1 4 U" simply breathtaking.
It's not Indian music like (Remember)Shakti, but jazz-world-fusion, or rather uniquely McLaughlin music. Not just great and inspired improvisations and solos, but also complex, moving and well-crafted compositions. And all of it infused with a tangible feeling of plain Joy. Endning on a very high note with a beautiful exchange between Niladri Kumar on electric sitar, sounding so much like McLaughlin in his younger days and the maestro himself.
As every McLaughlin-release in recent years, this is quite simply an important musical event.
I bought this at John McLaughlin's show in London on Saturday, on the penultimate European date of his tour with his new 4th Dimension band. The overwhelming impact of that concert was extraordinary: the interplay between the musicians (including JM's erstwhile colleague Dominique di Piazza standing in on bass for an injured Hadrien Feraud), the sheer power of the playing (culminating in McLaughlin's furious solo over a drum duet from Mark Mondesir and Gary Husband) and the feeling of being in the presence of one of the world's master musicians who has consistently sought to reinvent and redirect himself as he strives to - as he's said in a recent interview - use music to build a bridge between the inner and outer world.
This record (his fortieth, according to some reckoning) represents yet another manifestation of his technical inventiveness and inspiration. Following on from 2006's Industrial Zen, it seems to have much in common with that set (even the sleeves have similar colours, to take the most superfical viewpoint), which was a return to jazz fusion following the Euro-classical Thieves And Poets and the extended period of work with his Indian band, Remember Shakti. The early stages of that group overlapped with his previous fusion project with Heart Of Things, whose recordings provide another point of reference for this set.
But, as is often the case in his lengthy career, there's an unusual twist: this record was made with Indian musicians (and one or two from the West, including Feraud) in India, but they're playing fusion. The result is a consistently stimulating mixture of Western backbeats and complicated Eastern polyrhythms, over which McLaughlin unreels his characteristic sinuous lead lines. Sometimes he's using a clean, bright guitar tone, while at others he's playing the guitar synthesizer, imitating the sound of keyboards or trumpet.
Most of these tracks feature him duetting with guest musicians, including George Brooks on sax, Debashish Bhattacharya on Hindustani slide guitar, U. Ragesh (brother of Remember Shakti's U. Srinivas) on electric mandolin and Naveen Kumar on bansuri flute. Remember Shakti's vocalist, Shankar Mahadevan, is highlighted on The Voice, a track which recycles the riff from Mother Nature, his showcase on Industrial Zen. And the set's closer, Five Peace Band (a track which was also in Remember Shakti's repertoire) incorporates a blistering duet with Niladri Kumar on electic sitar. Each of these guests bring a subtle variation to the music, highlighting the extraordinary talent of the leader and the sheer exuberance of this date as exciting musical connections are made across genres, continents and ages.
McLaughlin has said this might be the best record he's ever made; while this might be a touch of marketing hype (and it's certainly too early to do more than a cursory comparison with his wide-ranging back catalogue), I think that it's a brilliantly stimulating, interesting, entertaining disc which can be recommended unreservedly.
on 28 May 2008
I've have been a keen fan of Indo jazz fusion after hearing, perhaps the first recording in the genre, Joe Harriott/John Mayer's Double Quintet's "Indo-Jazz Fusion", in 1966 or `67*. Compare the music and ideas on that with those found on "Floating Point", and you should get a clear idea how the music has progressed and evolved in the intervening 40 years. Where once you had the exotic sound of a sitar or tabla, playing a westerner's idea of raga to punctuate 60's modern jazz, you now have musicians from both western jazz and Indian traditional musics, coming together in more senses than one. A coming together with each having loved and absorbed both cultures' music, and now playing out a seamless hybrid of the two. For the most part you really don't need to ask the question: 'am I hearing jazz or raga?', since there is little to provide any clear demarcation - personally, this is how I want it nowadays. Instead let the best fusion for quite some time, take you for 60 minutes plus ride into real grooving and novel pleasure.
I very much agree with what the previous reviewer has written. McLaughlin is the master Indo-jazz fusionist, and with him are two Indian musicians on keyboards and drumkit who love jazz, creating music without borders. The young French bass guitarist, Hadrien Feraud and a Indian percussionist, complete the list of five who are the common denominators through the whole album. The challenge is to guest musicians (one western saxophonist, the others playing instruments associated with India, percussion, flutes, slide guitar and electric(!) zitar (their spelling)), not to lose this relatively subtle balance when making their individual virtuoso contributions, or otherwise tip the fusion into straight Indian or straight jazz playing. They succeed and at the same time produce a music which is exciting and in no small way new to most listeners. One example, the tune 'The Voice' in 8 or 9 minutes, swoops free and easy across the east/west boundary without emphasising one over the other. I've read comments made that Indan musician playing the slide guitar (btw, the DVD reveals this to be an ornated decorated, multi-stringed instrument played on the musician's lap), could readily show the talented Derek Trucks a thing or two.
One minor moan is John McLaughlin's use of guitar synthesiser on a couple of the opening tracks. To my ears whether Mac or Holdsworth or Metheny play the guitar synthesiser, the result sounding like a poor man's keyboards, or trumpet or whatever, leaves me wishing the guitarist would play those bars and make them sound like a guitar. However, on the second hearing of "Floating Point" I stopped hearing the synth as something awkward to my ears, but rather integral to the whole.
McLaughlin is on record saying this the best recording he's made. I'm not sure whether I would got that far straightaway, but it has grabbed me like no other McLaughlin recording for over a decade, in way that the much praised "Industrial Zen" didn't. Equally I found the recently released "Miles From India" album, seemingly content to stick with a 70's concept of Indo jazz fusion playing (notably with the exception of McLaughlin's contribution there) - and to my ears sound old fashioned. "Floating Point" in comparison is cutting edge.
I also recommend the accompanying DVD John McLaughlin's "Meeting of the Minds" (the making of "Floating Point"), which gives plenty of insights into McLaughlin style of arrangement, production and cooperation with fellow musicians, building ideas to the point that a tune is ready to be recorded.
Finally, praise must go to the specialist record label, Abstract Logix for releasing yet another excellent jazz fusion album with "Floating Point" - every one of their small catalogue of albums is worth sampling.
*The latest edition of Jazzwise magazine, June 2008, includes an 6 page review of Indo-jazz fusion, predating the start of the genre by a few years. A discography will point you towards other Indo-jazz fusion, many of which I have discovered are available through Amazon.
This album does take some getting used to. And you do have to take some space from it and go back again with fresh ears before you are able to sort out what's new. The Meeting of the Minds - The Making of Floating Point  DVD, which is awesome, helped clinch the album for me. The first thing you have to deal with is the overwhelming drums and percussion throughout. At first you can't help but think that this is some kind of mistake in the mixing, but persist and you can get used to it. It's a deliberate decision that ensures that the whole album operates at a very high energy level. John's albums have always been about joy and ecstasy and seldom on the mellow side of those values. The album is meant to be rhythmically overwhelming, from start to finish. So dig the drums and percussion first and then revisit it to get at the more melodic aspects. John takes a quite humble approach here, his midi guitar, whilst irritating to some listeners, is definitely him taking a back seat so he can showcase the awesome talents of the Indian guest musicians. In a way its like he wants to show the world what an awesome modern musical force India is gearing up to be. Almost like a legacy thing.
I won't go further into details of tracks and instrumentalists cos they are made clear in the blurb and by other reviewers. All I would say is this is not 'just another' east-west-jazz fusion album. It's a new kind of fusion that requires a new kind of listening. So be humble and put on fresh ears and have patience because every bar of this album is overwhelmingly intense. It just doesn't conform to the fusion formulae that we've got comfortable with.
on 15 July 2008
First off I love John's music over the years, from Extrapolation, with Santana, the Mahavishnus, Shakti etc etc he has shown himself to be the most innovative, challenging, spiritual living musician. BUT this is just awful, late '70's-standard jazz-rock noodling, lift music and a couple of numbers that sound like demos off my daughter's old CasioTone. I know Mr McLaughlin can deliver so much more...
You have to pay attention to a man who has two Miles Davis pieces named for him, but I was paying attention to John McLaughlin well before I realised he and Miles had even met. Back in the seventies, when he was to me what Clapton could only pretend to be, McLaughlin was renowned for white overalls, twin-necked guitars and his adherence to eastern mysticism, referenced by the strong, even at times all-pervasive, influence of Indian music on his work.
It is to that influence that this set returns, bolstered by an ensemble whose names suggest they, too, originate in the sub-continent. To call them backing musicians, however, is to totally misrepresent their role here. In many ways McLaughlin takes a leaf out of his old mentor's book, giving his collaborators centre stage for much of the time but making his mark more than felt when he takes the spotlight himself.
As is his wont lately, McLaughlin makes extensive use of guitar synthesiser throughout, but - call me old fashioned - it's the plain old guitar that stands out for me, nowhere more than on the final track, Five Peace Band (nice pun).
But because of the head he gives to the other players, it's their contribution that is really notable - after all, "John McLaughlin plays virtuoso guitar" is about as surprising as "Dog bites man". At times, in fact, the lead instruments seem to be the percussion.
This is evident right from the off, when a lyrical break on Soprano Sax by George Brooks is underlaid by Ranjit Barot's insistent, staccato drumming (hope I got the name right there - the credits are light blue on dark blue in an only semi-legible, microscopic script). McLaughlin soon takes over on Guitar Synth, and then he and Brooks engage in a call and response routine during which the drums never let up in their relentless attention-seeking, cutting across the serenity of the melody but never doing anything other than complementing it.
This continues on track two, Raju, which has a lick reminiscent of Layla. The other voice notable here is Hadrien Feroud's bass, with Louiz Banks on keyboards (I feel the words adorning the cover were intended to decorate more than inform; I found this name on an online review), laying down a rich canvas for the rest to decorate.
Elsewhere we have some cool playing on flute, nice vocalisations on The Voice, and even electric mandolin on Inside Out.
I'm not going to engage in any kind of discussion as to whether this measures up to other McLaughlin recordings. This is a great record and I'll be playing it alongside The Inner Mounting Flame, Qué Alegría and Trio Of Doom.
My big gripe, if you hadn't already guessed, is with the packaging. I'm not a big fan of cardboard CD covers anyway, but the least they could have done is to have provided some legible liner notes!
on 24 June 2008
The John McLaughlin finally arrived and a big disappointment. I have the DVD making of the album which is great. But the CD is just a mess. It's all Indian musicians playing with him but there is no space to breath. The drummer is amazing but frightened of leaving any silence or gaps. Great enthusisams, technical ability, precision, passion from all involved but in the end its just one big technical exercise in how well they can all play.
As for JM, when will he just stop palying guitar synth and play the guitar which he does so well.
on 18 June 2008
With the greatest of respect for his work,where does this production stand? Firstly, the actual production of the CD does not demonstrate the quality of Industrial Zen for example, more recently, or of any of his early work with Columbia. The digital production system does not achieve depth, resonance or radiance. Once again all credits for composition are given to John McLaughlin, and his authorial control has been consistent throughout his career since Mahavishnu. Despite the range of Indian musicians, the style continues from Industrial Zen rather than Shakti. More importantly and substantially, the guitar synth used throughout the production fails to create any warmth, as can be expected of course, and in this sense this production is an exercise by John McLauglin, who it appears, has already made his statement musically, and now is enchanted by domestic life and the joys of fatherhood, judging by his nursery CD. For a man now 68, we are grateful to have seen him in concert performance with Mahavishnu and more recently. We have collected almost his entire production of some sublime musical expression. Any serious student of jazz-fusion will find many treasures in his catalogue, but this production certainly is not his best.
on 12 July 2008
This is an absolute masterpiece from John McLaughlin. It seems from some reviews here that some fans expect John to continue Mahavishnu Orcestra. That has been done and put to rest. John McLaughlin , like Miles Davis is always striving ahead even if some are left behind. This happened as well when he created Shakti after MO.
On this album, the compostions are fantastic and its a big challenge to accomplish what John has done in the realm of "World Fusion". The guitar Synth work is fantastic, The guest musicians are absolutely stellar. I would advise against reading any bad reviews. Judge it for yourself . This is absolutely mind bending and cohesive musical work. Do check out the brilliant DVD that comes with the CD. Contemporary musicians like myself will try all their lives to make such a musical statement John McLaughlin: Meeting of the Minds - The Making of Floating Point
on 12 June 2008
I bought this album partially due to the 5 star ratings posted for this album and also because I attended John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension at Londons Barbican Centre May 2008. The Live concert was McLaughlin doing what he does best - play great jazz guitar with a superb band! Sadly the cd is a rather damp guitar synth riddled musical effort the band are great but McLaughlin himself uses awful synth voices all the way through. The same material with traditional guitar sounds would of been a huge improvement but it's too late for 'Floating Point'. I own almost everything he has produced over the last 4 decades and I can say this will be ignored by the hardcore Mclaughlin fans! Please stick to real guitar sounds JOHN and leave the synth noises for the keyboard players :-)
The downloadable Official Pirate of J Mclaughlin & 4th Dimension is a truly great album but sadly isn't planned for cd release :-(