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John McLaughlin: Where Fortune Smiles

Roger Farbey By

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Where Fortune Smiles although customarily attributed to John McLaughlin is as much John Surman's record as it was the Mahavishnu's. But it's probably more accurate to describe it as a collective recording since all five musicians were equally matched players of international standing. The cover art actually depicts all five musicians' names and the title of the album in an egalitarian circular arrangement. The album was recorded at Apostolic Studios, New York in late May 1970, at a time when Miles Davis had snatched bassist Dave Holland away from England and had then proceeded to borrow McLaughlin from Tony Williams for his seminal electric albums. This recording also preceded by a year McLaughlin's paradigm-shifting Mahavishnu Orchestra, so can be regarded as something of a transitional record, but nonetheless not one to be ignored.

Surman's opening track "Glancing Backwards," with its haunting and scintillating riff, had been recorded a year earlier by the saxophonist in London but this was only officially released in 2005 when it appeared on Cuneiform's Way Back When, the title track of which was actually a prototype version of this memorable opener (it also appeared on a rather tawdry bootleg Unissued Sessions 1969, but the less said about that the better). Another fallacy surrounding this album is that it's widely regarded as jazz rock, fusion or even rock. It's decidedly none of these but could better be described as iconoclastic jazz, albeit characterised by its ubiquitous angular compositions. The fact that McLaughlin is playing electric guitar is almost incidental since his coruscating style here sounds like a reaction to the relative restraint he employed on those Milesian masterpieces, In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

This record therefore must have come as quite a shock to those who picked it up when originally released on the progressive Dawn label, which also released two of Surman's most important albums,The Trio and Conflagration. McLaughlin's lyrical "Earthbound Hearts" simultaneously looks back to the guitarist's debut album recorded with Surman, Extrapolation and forward to the following year's transcendentally gorgeous My Goal's Beyond. The title track is a pellucid duet between McLaughlin and Karl Berger. An alternative version of this Surman-penned composition also appeared on Harry Beckett's 1970 album Flare Up on which the saxophonist featured and which surely rates as a compulsory purchase for any British jazz devotee.

"New Place, Old Place" is launched from a guitar and vibes riff which, courtesy of Dave Holland's rapidly evaporating obligato bass riff, ascends into the stratosphere. Martin's drumming flays around in a battery of wild support. The drummer, who died tragically aged just forty two, was probably one of the world's most underappreciated jazz musicians and certainly one of its most talented. The track transmutes into a free collective improvisation and guitar-wise is much closer in execution to say, Sonny Sharrock than Jimi Hendrix. It's raw McLaughlin at his unbridled best. There are some fleeting restatements of the opening theme before a final brief elegiac ensemble ending.

"Hope" is the devastating finale, with McLaughlin playing his socks off and laying down the blueprint for his excoriating solo on "Businessmen," recorded a few months later, on Carla Bley's seminal Escalator Over The Hill. So forget this being stereotyped as jazz rock since it's considerably more than that. This reissue is re-mastered from the original Dawn Records master tapes and contains extra sleeve notes by Sid Smith. Moreover, as both a historical artefact and a record imbued with visceral energy and excitement, it's unique.

Track Listing: Glancing Backwards (For Junior); Earthbound Hearts; Where Fortune Smiles; New Place, Old Place; Hope.

Personnel: John McLaughlin: electric guitar; John Surman: soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone; Karl Berger: vibraphone; Dave Holland: double bass; Stu Martin: drums.

Title: Where Fortune Smiles | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Esoteric Recordings

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