John McLaughlin This Is The Way I Do It
The Ultimate Guitar Workshop On Improvisation
In the hands of all but a few other guitarists, this title would be a self-aggrandisement on a major scale (no pun intended). However, being the distilled sum of knowledge gained by surely the greatest living jazz guitarist of the age throughout more than fifty years of wielding his mighty axe, and couched in the state-of-the-art media format, John McLaughlin has indeed produced a mighty work. If his recorded and live output alone do not provide him with the status of King of the Jazz Guitar, then this three-DVD set will surely be an everlasting artistic legacy to the world of music, which will be seen as a beacon to all aspirants well into the future.
As a player myself of some thirty years, I believe I can offer some authority and relate the work here directly to it's practical application; merely a cursory flick through the material by anyone versed in the art of the guitar would be rewarded by an impression of the huge volume of knowledge, craft and experience that is pouring out through this DVD set. There are many many videos by guitarists for guitarists, but this workshop is meticulously articulated and demonstrated with John's personal approach to often quite common music theory.
On the Intro, Mclaughlin bids us "work well." Work is the key note here. This workshop is not for all, and Mclaughlin himself says that it has been created, assuming that the student has a working knowledge of the guitar. This one will really test your dexterity but ultimately it's intention is for you to break through the barrier of the thought process associated with the theory and just play. Like all good guides, the workshop exists on a number of levels simultaneously, so you can take a comparatively easy pass through the first time and then tackle the advanced route on a second (third or more) sweep.
So what do you get for your investment? Over the three DVDs there are twelve chapters, covering material from the basic modes, scale tone chords, linear triads, the symmetrical scale and melodic minor modes. Each chapter has between two and four "expositions," where McLaughlin explains the core material for that particular chapter. He does this by using practical demonstration to camera, accompanied by the score following feature of EMagic's Logic Software programme. This is further enhanced by the use of a "split screen" effect which allows the viewer to see clearly both the left and right hands in close detail.
Following the "expositions" are the "demonstrations," usually one easier and the second a little more difficult. These words "easy" and "difficult" are hard to quantify in terms of JM's playing but in essence, the first demo is usually characterised by John improvising using the core material, but obviously "reined in" from his recognised performance level. The second or more difficult demo is usually more like the John McLaughlin we see and hear in concert, whilst still employing the material from that chapter's expositions. So these are akin to little vignettes of John performing live for you against a sequenced backing track.
The forethought with which Mclaughlin has assembled this DVD is really brought home to the viewer in the "analysis" sections which follow the demonstrations in each chapter. Here, McLaughlin has the Logic score to his improvisations in the demonstrations projected onto a large white board and literally takes the student through his improvisations, stopping and starting the music to make specific points about certain phrases and pointing out their relevance to the core material of the particular chapter.
The clarity and conceptual continuity running through the whole of this DVD reveals McLaughlin's depth of thought through his simplicity of expression. His articulation is absolutely precise throughout every demonstration, and nothing is left ambiguous or unexplained. McLaughlin places much emphasis on the analysis of the music in this way and clearly enjoys demonstrating the fruits of his own craft to the viewer.
Finally, to conclude each chapter, the student has the opportunity to improvise over the same backing tracks as McLaughlin has done, to practice employing the methodologies thus far expounded. John chooses mostly very simple and sometimes quite familiar chord sequences with which to demonstrate his improvisations and indeed those students familiar with McLaughlin's recorded works will recognise many of his signature chordal patterns and at least five full compositions, including "Nostalgia," "Mother Tongues," and "Fallen Angels."
For example, his approach to rhythmic phrasing across basic modes and pentatonic scales lets you see upon what his work in Shakti and Remember Shakti is based and his signature style sails through the opening few chapters (all on C Ionian!), borrowing greatly from Coltrane's use of rhythmical phrases. Indeed his musical influences and teachers are well in evidence, whether it be a phrase reminiscent of Miles, a chord voicing from Bill Evans or a rhythmical division straight from tabla. It is awe inspiring to feel that here the lineage of many of the jazz giants from the 20th century is distilled into one coherent stream soley for the benefit and edification of the student.
The bonus DVD features a humourous "Bloops" section where McLaughlin's outtakes show a very warm, human nature behind the intensity of the "professional" face. There is also a lovely photo album of pictures taken of McLaughlin in his own home and studio to lighten the atmosphere from all the hard work.
There is little if anything to be objectively critical of here; I'm at a loss though, to understand the rationale behind the artwork (McLaughlin posing with guitar in a long coat amidst an icy industrial landscape) other than some reference to "workshop." The application of the course to any other instrument is perhaps understandably limited, although many of the improvisational demonstrations were easily applicable to keyboards and saxophone. Perhaps it would have been aesthetically more pleasing to have had McLaughlin playing with some other live musicians rather than the sequenced backing tracks. Then again this may have detracted from it's real intention: this is a serious work for serious students.
To conclude it is, above all, exciting and fascinating to have John McLaughlin as your personal virtual guitar teacher in the comfort of your very own home, since only one Jan Maresz has the good fortune to have JM as his personal tutor in the real world. The course that is represented here will offer sufficient material to fill many years of dedication and application for even the most proficient student and I'm sure will come to be the seedbed for courses in educational institutions in the future, long after the great man has departed this mortal coil (Ph.D. in advanced John McLaughlin Guitar, anyone?). He leaves a legacy here of which he can be truly proud and which will enrich any aspiring guitarist's knowledge base.
Visit John McLaughlin on the web.