Finding the Way: The Music of John McLaughlin

Walter Kolosky By

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Since the late '60s, John McLaughlin has been on a constant quest. The guitarist, like his early mentor Miles Davis, has reinvented his music several times. And he isn't likely to stop any time soon. This special feature focuses on the many forms of McLaughlin's music, with particular emphasis on the recordings which have earned him his just fame.

But first, a bit of background: McLaughlin played on several electric Miles records, including the first shots in the fusion revolution. His work with Miles earned him a substantial fan base.

McLaughlin sparked his solo career with a trip into modern jazz, deriving energy from the free jazz movement. Soon he would go on to found the intense, hard-driving jazz-rock fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra—probably his most famous and influential group to date. A few years later, the guitar went unplugged in a new group called Shakti, which celebrated a spiritual form of Indo-jazz improvisation. While the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti would see revivals in later years, McLaughlin remained restless.

He joined forces with Al DiMeola and Paco DeLucia in the now-legendary Guitar Trio, which won a huge new audience over to McLaughlin's vision. Power trios with Trilok Gurtu offered a spare, open improvisational approach; tributes to Coltrane and Bill Evans assumed widely different forms appropriate to each master; and Remember Shakti brought Indo-jazz fusion back into the limelight with an updated perspective.

You'll never be able to accuse John McLaughlin of getting too comfortable in any given setting. And that's one big reason why music from throughout his career remains fresh today.

Author Walter Kolosky, who is something of a McLaughlin disciple, has been on the path since the '70s. Kolosky's perceptive insight throughout this project testifies to his deep understanding of the music and the ideas which drive it. If you're curious about the many facets of John McLaughlin's art, this is an ideal place to start.

Credits: All material (except intro above) by Walter Kolosky. Edited by Nils Jacobson.

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