As a followup to his remarkable The Things I See: Interpretations of the Music of Allan Holdsworth
(Angel Air, 2001), veteran drummer/keyboardist Gary Husband tackles another guitar legend on A Meeting of Spirits
. Both records are wonderful solo piano tributes to their sources' distinctive compositional skills and harmonic innovations. But Husband's latest effort takes the concept of homage a step further by including original compositions that live in McLaughlin's universe, but continue to define his own personal sphere as well.
Appreciated for many years as a drummer but long undervalued as a pianist/keyboardist, Husband's multifaceted talent has come into a more balanced view over the past couple of years. On McLaughlin's Industrial Zen (Universal, 2006), the iconic guitarist enlisted Husband in both capacities. While his ensemble record Aspire (Jazzizit, 2004) provided evidence that Husband's purview extends well beyond the fusion arena where he's best known, his solo piano records are his most personal, and consequently most intimately revealing.
Spanning material including "It's Funny," from McLaughlin's auspicious debut Extrapolation (Polydor, 1969), to "Jazz Jungle," from The Promise (Verve, 1995), Husband's approach to McLaughlin's music is far from literal. It's often difficult to recognize McLaughlin's compositions, and even when they are discernable, they've been harmonically refashioned. Husband's take on the Mahavishnu Orchestra's up-tempo "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" layers its familiar theme over slightly skewed chords, using the piano body as a percussion instrument as his solo picks up steam.
Husband's continues to dig deep into the Mahavishnu Orchestra repertoire, with his own "Maya Prologue" a darkly impressionistic intro that leads into the bluesy and irregularly metered "The Dance of the Maya." The mix makes a distinctive split towards the end, as each contrasting yet integrated theme takes its own channel. Husband also cleverly combines the more tranquil "You Know, You Know" and the funkier "Miles Beyond" with an abstruse "Are You The One?," from Electric Guitarist (Legacy Recordings, 1979).
Elsewhere the references become more obscure. "Vision is a Naked Sword" is a haunting, Satie-esque tone poem, but it retains the Mahavishnu Orchestra version's sense of foreboding. The raw free jazz chops of "Earth Bound Hearts," from Where Fortune Smiles (Dawn, 1970), are replaced by Husband's sparer lyricism.
What's most remarkable is how Husband's own pieces mesh with McLaughlin's, creating a common ground that reflects of a deeper understanding of McLaughlin's vast vernacular, along with Husband's own evolving language and virtuosic pianism. McLaughlin has never sounded so dark, so abstract or so contextually unfettered. But equally, Husband finds the line that threads through McLaughlin's stylistically diverse career, making A Meeting of Spirits an innovative tribute that's reverential but always speaks with its own voice.