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For a variety of reasons, The Guitar Trio album was perhaps the least anticipated album of John McLaughlin’s career. What could be new? How could John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and Paco DeLucia top their two historic albums from the Trio's heyday, 15 years earlier?
Well, the answers are clear. If they offered nothing new, they really couldn't better the original albums. However, that's not the case. If one wants reassurances that the "old men" can still do it, The Guitar Trio offers proof.
In a bit of irony, the strongest new composition is Al DiMeola's "Beyond the Mirage". All three players get into this groove that features the best DiMeola trademark rhythms. The tune also includes a beautifully focused melody line. It is a very fine and crafted piece produced by the weakest creative member of the Trio. (But in all fairness, that's all relative: to fall short among such masters is no crime.)
McLaughlin's "Midsummer Night" is also a gem. This tune is a bit flighty and features a catchy hook. It is the album's only light moment, and it comes off as an encore number. McLaughlin pulls a few pieces from his classical Concerto and places them in "Le Monastere Dans Les Montagnes", a stunning tune that showcases the Trio in a delicate way.
DeLucia's best composition is the album's opening cut, "La Estiba". It is a flamenco-jazz tour de force. It flutters to and fro and prepares the listener for the serious listening still ahead.
Unfortunately, the album is too long. Cuts 8 and 9, penned by DiMeola and DeLucia, do not quite meet muster and end up serving only as filler. DiMeola also unexpectedly takes an over-dubbed solo turn. But to be fair to him, it's not all that bad.
On the whole, The Guitar Trio still has an infectious sound. The recording quality is top rate, as is the musicianship. Even if the Trio could not capture the power of the original Passion, Grace and Fire, it still amazes.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.