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Artist Profiles

Guest Appearances: John McLaughlin as a Sideman

By Published: July 8, 2004
In the mid '80s John formed a new Mahavishnu featuring the ex-Miles' sax-player Bill Evans. In 1985, Bill Evans released his own The Alternative Man. Alternative Man featured the state of the art jazz-fusion of its time. Just a taste of "pop" would enter from time to time, mostly in the form of an ingratiating hook, but the overall musicality of the album is at the highest levels. And as always, McLaughlin's guest appearance on two cuts offers a totally different take than can be found on the rest of the album. Both cuts showcase John on acoustic guitar and on "Survival Of The Fittest" it is at its fluttering best. This tune is a cycle of fleeting chords and wispy soprano sax. It builds and disappears. "Flight of the Falcon" arrives and never goes away. It is the highlight of the album and deservedly ends it. The Alternative Man is a delightful album. Good luck in finding it.

In 1986, John McLaughlin made his movie debut, looking at the camera and mumbling. A movie star he was not. A shooting musical star he is and will always be. In Round Midnight , yet another fascinating but depressing jazz film, McLaughlin played the guitar in one of Dale Turner's (Dexter Gordon) bands. It was the 1950's, and McLaughlin played his part by assuming the role of a 1950's guitarist. He did it rather well and his playing, although breaking no ground whatsoever, was evocative and fitting for the soundtrack. That and unrecorded soundtrack companion recordings were released in 1986. If you want to hear McLaughlin with Dexter and Herbie Hancock play some standards and sound-track themes, go for it. If not, that's perfectly understandable. But you should see the movie, tune out some of the plot and enjoy the jazz performances.

Another Mahavishnu band mate, Danny Gottlieb, released Aquamarine in 1987. This is an absolutely impressive album, truly a must-have. McLaughlin plays acoustic guitar to Gottlieb's brush and snare in a piece called "Duet" which should have been released on a Mahavishnu album, as it certainly doesn't quite fit here. At any rate, a very interesting McLaughlin composition from his Shakti days, "Peace of Mind," appears as a duet featuring Gottlieb and Bass star Mark Egan. All in all, it is a a pleasing performance worth the effort of the search.

John McLaughlin made a major contribution to the beautiful Zakir Hussain album Making Music. Released in 1987, Making Music set the standard for good "World Music." Making Music also floats on the haunting flute of Hariprasad Chaurasia and deep tenor and soprano saxophones of ECM veteran Jan Garbarek. McLaughlin races with the devil on this outing, blazing an acoustic trail through every planet in the Eastern universe. The ensemble certainly would make a superlative touring band... I actually wonder if they ever got together for a show? Haunting and lyrical, fancy-free and meditative, Making Music is one the highlights of McLaughlin's guest appearances. For listeners familiar with McLaughlin's work in Shakti, this album is to be searched for, found and hoarded.

The 1989 Miles Davis release Aura had actually been recorded in 1984, but a contract dispute kept this two-record set from the public for five long years. Written by Danish bassist Palle Mikkelborg, the music on Aura featured Davis and McLaughlin in a similar format as their groundbreaking recordings of 15 years earlier. Miles lets loose some long sustained notes over orchestral changes, and McLaughlin's electric guitar cuts into the music like a hot knife through butter. Even after its long shelf time, Aura was still nominated for a Grammy. While Aura ended up a less than totally satisfying affair, it does possess moments featuring Davis and McLaughlin that are quite rewarding.

Carnegie Hall Salutes The Jazz Masters was released in 1994, and McLaughlin appears on two cuts. He and Herbie Hancock honor the late Bill Evans with an esoteric electric guitar and acoustic piano duet of "Turn Out The Stars". The two also get together for a raucous cover of Miles' "It's About That Time". It is great to hear these two masters play together again.

In 1995, producer Eddie Kramer asked McLaughlin to get a bassist and a drummer and pick a Jimi Hendrix tune to be included in the Hendrix tribute record After the Storm. McLaughlin picked Sting and Sting's drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta—soon to be a fusion superstar—along with rhythm guitarist Dominic Miller to play "The Wind Cries Mary" in front of a symphony orchestra. Pure and simple, John kicks ass on this record, as he hadn't done in 15 years! Sting and John protested that the orchestral background would damage the final release and so this track appears, unlike every other tune, without it. Sting sings sweetly and carries his own on bass, and Colaiuta must have been in heaven because his playing has a religious power. The tune was eventually nominated for a Grammy.

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