Let me preface this review by admitting that I’ve never had an interest in McLaughlin’s music. My attitude toward his numerous projects and transformations has been one of unerring ambivalence. While listening to this disc wasn’t a revelatory experience it did suggest to me that I’ve been remiss in neglecting to explore his work. This album, which was also reissued awhile back by Rykodisc, visits him on the verge of forming his celebrated Mahavishnu Orchestra. Several of his future colleagues in the band are along for this ride including Cobham and Moreira.
Revered at the time of its release as the first extended showcase for McLaughlin’s acuity on acoustic guitar this disc has adopted something of legendary status. Prior to its appearance the guitarist had mainly favored the heavily amplified rock-inflected approach evident in his earlier work with Miles Davis’ fusion groups. Here he’s found embracing a very different sound, one steeped in East Indian tonalities and drone patterns. Both “Peace” pieces work off an ethereal rhythmic underpinning of buzzing tamboura, cyclic bass and teeming percussion. McLauglin’s terrestrial bound steel strings pierce through the reverie in stunning contrast to the whistling upper register lines of Liebman’s flute. Goodman’s prickly violin is similarly sharp-tongued spitting out streams of vaporous harmonics. “Peace Two” is less overtly propulsive building steam over an effusive rhythmic background of hand percussion. McLaughlin’s plucked lines approximate the brittle sonorities of sitar beneath the wailing melodicism of Liebman’s soprano and take the piece out in a rush of ecstatic release.
The remaining tracks place predominant emphasis on guitar, offering a mini-recital of the leader’s adroit skill on the strings across a diverse program of compositions. All are brief in length, but long on inspiration, though McLaughlin makes only sparing use of his sidemen. Several, including “Follow Your Heart” and “Song for My Mother,” employ creative use of overdubbing allowing McLaughlin to converse with himself. Taken alongside the opening group rendered pieces these closing numbers are comparatively Spartan in sound. Followers of John McLaughlin’s long and winding musical path will almost certainly welcome this album’s return to widespread release. Likewise those who are not as familiar with his work may find this disc as an easy entry point into his expansive oeuvre.
John McLauglin- acoustic guitar; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone, flute; Jerry Goodman- electric violin; Charlie Haden- bass; Billy Cobham, drums; Airto Moreira- percussion; Badal Roy- tabla; Mahalakshmi- tamboura.
Recorded: June 1970.
Knit Classics titles are available directly through the Knitting Factory website: http://www.knittingfactory.com
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