Perhaps the biggest success of Liberation Time is that its title feels sincere and not ironic. Such a sentiment could have easily come out as a cute bit of wishful thinking under the restrictions of pandemic life. Being who he is, though, John McLaughlin inevitably finds the value and positivity even in this strange state of affairs. "The wonderful thing about music is that you put the headphones on and you are all in the same room," he says in regards to the newly-standard modus operandi of virtual conference calls. Even if that's not literally true, the chemistry among this crew of friends is thankfully undimmed by distance.
Of course the closeness is partly due to the long working history of the 4th Dimension band of Gary Husband, Etienne Mbappe and Ranjit Barot. As a silver lining to the circumstances, though, McLaughlin takes advantage of the remote-recording method to include a handful of collaborators who might not have been available otherwise. His romping guitar and Husband's keys are joined by a different rhythm section on the cooking opener "As the Spirit Sings"; Julian Siegel's sax adds some extra bebop flavor to the intricate rock-fusion jam of "Right Here, Right Now, Right On" while an entirely different backing group flies through the quick changes.
Alongside the core quartet's jamming in spots such as the jaunty "Singing Our Secrets," or the too-bright-for-its-name "Lockdown Blues" (spiced up with some playful Indian konokol scatting while they're at it), the guest tracks manage to feel all of a piece with the overall program. The leader's uplifting spirit unifies the music and the cast as much as his voice on the guitar does. His fleet juicy fretwork is inimitable as ever, often still tearing through these fun licks at whiplash speed, surprisingly complemented by a couple of contemplative interludes featuring him at the pianoanother addition that probably would not have happened in what we used to call ordinary circumstances. Even if it can't quite hit the incendiary highs of Live at Ronnie Scott's (Abstract Logix, 2017) or John McLaughlin & Jimmy HerringLive in San Francisco (Abstract Logix, 2018), this is a sharp-cooking session radiant with liberating energy and hope for the future.
The Spirit Sings; Singing Our Secrets; Lockdown Blues; Mila Repa; Right Here, Right Now, Right On; Shade of Blue; Liberation Times.