Montreux Jazz Festival and John McLaughlin have shared a special bond since the English guitarist first performed at the internationally renowned Swiss festival in 1972, with The Mahavishnu Orchestra
. Since then, the ever-searching McLaughlin has returned numerous times, with almost every formation he has ever led. This double vinyl or single-CD release is effectively a sampler, as all bar one of these tunes appeared on the mammoth 17xCD box set John McLaughlin Montreux Concerts
(Warner Bros Records, 2003). The one song exclusive to the 180-gram vinyl is "Friendship," from a 1978 performance by The One Truth Band. Otherwise, vinyl and CD cover the same ground, representing five different McLaughlin vehicles from 1984 to 2016.
Two tracks from the last incarnation of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, the burning "Radio Activity" and the more lyrical "Nostalgia," have McLaughlin in irrepressible form. On the former, McLauglin tears it up on electric guitar with arguably one of his finest solos committed to record. On the latter, the guitarist's fluid yet tender lines on his Syncaliver synth guitar seem to foreshadow Is That So?
(Abstract Logix, 2020), an achingly beautiful series of bhajans
, or devotional songs, in the company of Zakir Hussain
and Shankar Mahadevan
. Notable too, the playing of saxophonist Bill Evans on tenor and sopranoa mainstay of Miles Davis
's early/mid-'80s bandsand keyboardist Mitchel Forman
, whose distinctive musical personalities leave their own indelible stamps on this leaner, funkierand somewhat underratedversion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra.
McLaughlin's restless creativity meant that few of his '80s or '90s bands ran for long. The Free Spirits trio with drummer Dennis Chambers
and organist Joey DeFrancesco
, was only documented on Tokyo Live
(Verve, 2002), so its smouldering interpretation of Carla Bley
's "Sing Me Softly Of The Blues" from MJF 1995 is a welcome offering. McLaughlin and DeFrancesco take turns to let bluesy sparks fly, with Chambers, a more subtle colorist than he's often given credit for, serving the music unobtrusively.
Chambers also commands the drum stool on "Acid Jazz" with The Heart Of Things at MJF 1998. One of McLaughlin's favouritethough short-livedbands, the sextet also features saxophonist Gary Thomas
, brilliant electric bassist Matt Garrison
, percussionist Victor Williams and Venezuelan keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz
. A talented bunch of musicians, for sure, but this is, truth be told, a slightly meandering slice of jazz-fusion that only fires in fits and starts. Thomas and McLaughlin appear to pay homage to John Coltrane
with brief melodic mantras that echo "Acknowledgment" from A Love Supreme
before a bristling solo from the leader, shadowed by the ever-alert Chambers.
The only acoustic tracks on the album, from MJF 1987, see McLaughlin reunite with flamenco maestro Paco de Lucia
. Both "David" and "Florianapolis," in turns caressing and passionately fiery, appeared on the aforementioned 17xCD box set, which is now out of print. Happily, the entire 90-minute performance was released on a CD/DVD package
by Eagle Eye Media in 2016. Still, these two stellar selections, which feature unison passages every bit as enthralling as the solos, serve as a timely reminder of just how special this duo was, and what a versatile player McLaughlin has always been.
Fittingly, the album closes with McLaughlin's tribute to de Lucia, "El Hombre Que Sabia," at MJF 2016. McLauglin's original intention was to record the composition with de Lucia, but with de Lucia's passing in 2014 the tune instead made its way into the repertoire of McLaughlin's longest-lasting band, the 4th Dimension. Keyboardist Gary Husband
and McLaughlin trade fiery runs back and forth over drummer Ranjit Barot
and electric bassist Etienne Mbappe
's rhythmic bustle.
McLaughlin, who compiled the The Montreux Years
himself, dedicates it "to the memory and achievements" of his good friend and MJF founder, Claude Nobbs. Those achievements were considerable, as McLaughlin recalled for an AAJ feature to mark the 50th anniversary of MJF
in 2016: "Claude and his passion eventually changed the economy of the town of Montreux, and even affected the entire Swiss economy, only by virtue of his passion and love for music."
That the 4th Dimension's appearance at MJF 2022 marks fifty years since McLaughlin first graced the festival is no small feat. McLauglin might not have affected a nation's economy, but in his own steadfast way his music has touched millions. His own passion and love for musicand a very broad spectrum of it at thatare evident on this eclectic live compilation in every solo, in every dazzling unison line and in every lyrical phrase.
Radio Activity; Nostalgia; Acid Jazz; David; Florianapolis; Sing Me Softly Of The Blues; El Hombre Que Sabia.
Bill Evans: saxophones (1-2); Danny Gottlieb: drums (1-2); Mitchel Forman: keyboards (1-2); Jonas Helborg: electric bass (1-2); Paco de Lucia: acoustic guitar (4, 6); Dennis Chambers: drums (3, 5); Joey DeFrancesco: organ (5); Otmaro Ruiz: keyboards (3); Victor Williams: percussion (3); Gary Thomas: saxophone (3); Matthew Garrison: electric bass (3); Gary Husband: keyboards (7); Etienne Mbappe: electric bass (7); Ranjit Barot: drums (7).