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Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond by Colin Harper

Colin Harper By

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That 'first band' would coalesce, though only for a moment, in 1968 and would include John Surman, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Tony Oxley—a lineup that, with one change (due to Holland's relocation to New York), would record John's first solo LP, Extrapolation.

"I got into Ayler, who I feel is very beautiful, and Gary Peacock, the whole thing," John admitted, in 1975. "Don Cherry's Complete Communion, Archie Shepp, Pharaoh [Sanders]... But at the same time as the intensity was there, true, at a certain point they lost discipline. Who am I to criticise, you know? But just for me, there was some indulgence there. I mean, I'm sure I'm guilty of it myself, but it's something I want to become better and better [sic]. However chaotic the music may seem, the discipline has got to be there. And I want to feel more pulse—it doesn't have to be time—so long as pulse is there the way you want to feel it... For me, Cecil Taylor is one of the most revolutionary musicians of the 20th Century. I love the spirit in his music. That's all I really go for in music anyway is a person's spirit."

In January '66, the Melody Maker ran a discursive piece headlined, "Is the New Wave just a passing fad? Or has 'jazz' become another meaningless word?" Bob Dawbarn's view, for the prosecution, was: "No one can question the right of musicians to experiment. But we do have the right to ask whether their chosen path is worth following."

Bob Houston's view, for the defence (with caveats), was more forgiving:

"If jazz can cover Louis Armstrong right through to Gil Evans, it's a poor imagination which can't stretch from Gil Evans to Sun Ra and still feel that the term 'jazz' to describe their music is meaningful. No one in their right mind would suggest that the plunge into stream-of-consciousness solos which Albert Ayler indulges in, or the sheer exhaustiveness of a Cecil Taylor improvisation are the only directions in which jazz can develop... [M]any critics now accept John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman as vital contributors to jazz when only a few years ago they were bemoaning the fact that they were killing the music they loved. The real danger to the New Wave is that its critics and supporter [sic] are getting it out of proportion."

John Stevens had a much simpler way of looking at things. "I'm sure there are a lot of charlatans," he conceded, "but people can always tell. If they like it, it's probably good."

Adapted from Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond, by Colin Harper. Published (UK and US) March 26 2014 by Jawbone Press

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