Guest Appearances: John McLaughlin as a Sideman
McLaughlin plays up an electrical storm on his pal Carlos Santana's Welcome. The tune is called "Flame Sky." Because the album is hard to find, the performance is surprisingly little known.
In 1975, McLaughlin appeared on former Return to Forever bassist Stanley Clarke's great album Journey to Love. In a trio format along with Chick Corea, McLaughlin and Clarke rip through the acoustic "Song To John". "Song To John", which appeared in two parts, was dedicated to John Coltrane. Blistering runs and sympathetic accompanying prevail. McLaughlin appears to have used his acoustic scalloped Shakti guitar. Journey To Love is an album every fusion-head should own. The rest of the album is strong with just a couple of "smooth" moments that foretell what would later ruin Stanley's musical development.
The beautiful duet "Desert Song" appeared on Stanley Clarke's School Days... again, an acoustic outing that truly showcased Clarke's bowing abilities. McLaughlin, as usual, displayed dominance of his instrument and translated this tune into one of great meaning. Someday, perhaps, these two giants will find common ground and perform together again.
Larry Coryell surfaces again on Paco DeLucia's Castro Marin. Recorded in 1980, this session features the ill-fated Guitar Trio of McLaughlin, Coryell, and DeLucia. This Trio was eventually dismantled because of personal problems Coryell was dealing with at the time. "Palenque" is the tune the Trio recorded and it is truly a fine piece of music. Since this Trio never was able to release a record, this is the only opportunity to listen to its recorded vitality. (That is, unless you can obtain a copy of the commercially available The Meeting of the Spirits video). Coryell certainly is a different player than Al DiMeola and gives the Trio a different sound. A comparison of the two is certainly not worth the time. John's guitar, as always, sounds as if perfection was its middle name. And what can be said of Paco that is not of a drooling nature? This album belongs in the collection for sure.
In 1981, producer Creed Taylor released the overblown Fuse One. The idea was to feature many of the day's top jazz performers crossing over and playing on each other's tunes. In other words, "No real band leaders". Overall, this recording, which also showcased lush orchestral backgrounds, was a dismal failure. In many ways, it was a father to what we now know as that GODAWFUL "smooth jazz." Caught-up in this ill-advised session, along with McLaughlin, was George Benson, Wynton Marsalis (YES!), Stanley Clarke, and Dave Valentin, plus our heroes Tony Williams, Joe Farrell, Larry Coryell and many others.
There is some good news. On its CD reissue, Fuse One , combined with a second Fuse recording, the orchestra was removed. The bad news is that much of the album still remains an awful mess. However, McLaughlin certainly saves the day with two awesome showstoppers! "To Whom All Things Concern" is one of the best McLaughlin jazz-rock anthems ever written. (This tune drives through this album like a Mack Truck!) Its performance outclasses the rest of the album and he should record it again so that those of us lucky enough not to own Fuse One will have a chance to hear it. This is a hot cut and features Stanley Clarke, Joe Farrell on tenor and a driving Ndugu on drums. "Friendship", the other McLaughlin piece, is more reserved but forthright nonetheless.
Clearly, through John McLaughlin's career there have been peaks and valleys. And with the exception of some guest performances with Miles Davis, most notably on the jazz-pop oriented You're Under Arrest , McLaughlin's sideman appearances became more infrequent in the 1980's. It is also possible that McLaughlin refused many opportunities. At any rate, only several releases feature John as a guest during the decade.