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Derek Bailey, Keiji Haino, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Carlos Santana: Five Gentlemen of the Guitar

John Eyles By

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This looks like a cheaply produced bootleg—shoddy black and white cover, with no information other than personnel, track titles and the enigmatic line, "Turin, 2000. But—and it's a big but—the music is well recorded and sounds genuine; it sounds like these five were actually playing together, something that's hard to fake, no matter how good the editing.

It is easy to speculate how this meeting came about. Derek Bailey had played with Keiji Haino before and also recorded with Pat Metheny. John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana famously recorded together, back in the days when their shared interests included white clothing and devotional faith. And McLaughlin's roots go back to late '60s London, where he recorded with Tony Oxley before playing in the same Miles band as Dave Holland. My best guess would be that this was recorded when all five players (plus many dozens more, you will recall) were in Turin for the notorious Guitar Olympiad, the only one ever held. Anyway, to the music...

The fact that these five players have very distinct and different styles is both a blessing and a curse. For the great majority of the time here, it is easy to distinguish the individual contributions without them getting subsumed into an overall swathe of sound. However, their very distinctiveness also means that they can struggle to find common ground. This is most obvious on the opener, "Improvisation No. 4, a free improvisation that sounds like a "getting to know you session. Despite Bailey's best efforts to act as lubricant and glue, the music is less of a conversation and more a series of monologues (or even arguments). Company it isn't!

The choice of Coltrane's "Ascension is intriguing. Where once a group of guitarists jamming together would have opted for a blues as common ground, Coltrane now seems to be part of the shared language. Certainly, all five rip into the piece's main theme with gusto, providing the most together moments of the whole album. From then on, things fracture and fragment. With no instruments other than guitar, a rhythm section is sorely missed; someone needed to hold things together but instead it rapidly degenerates into a cacophony, only slightly relieved by some soaring runs from Santana.

The remaining two tracks, both uncredited compositions (and both surely given titles after the fact), achieve more coherence. On "The Dog That Didn't Bark there is fine interplay between Bailey and Metheny and between McLaughlin and Santana, with Haino largely absent (maybe he's the dog?). As if to even things up, Haino dominates "Raw Meat, blowing away everyone else in the process; a treat for the ears.

To summarize, fans of any of these five will find enough here to interest and intrigue them, but this is not exactly a summit conference. In other words, it is about as successful as the Guitar Olympiad was!



Track Listing: Improvisation No. 4; Ascension; The Dog That Didn

Personnel: Derek Bailey: guitar; Keiji Haino: guitar; John McLaughlin: guitar; Pat Metheny: guitar; Carlos Santana: guitar.

Title: Five Gentlemen of the Guitar | Year Released: 2007

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