There are those who make the search for beauty the very
reason for their existence. John
McLaughlin (Doncaster, UK, 1942) is a man that chose the guitar as a means
to finding it through music. A pioneer in constant search for the new
experiences to be found in the magic of the six strings - or twelve, or any number
of them, for that matter -, McLaughlin
is a true adventurer that journeyed from the British Isles to Andalusia, where
he found great inspiration before continuing his personal and artistic
pilgrimage to India. There, he found the new sounds and experiences he was
looking for, sounds from the East which he combined with those of jazz and classical
music which he brought with him from the West.
In 1971, McLaughlin jumped on the bandwagon of North American and European musicians in search of peace and paradise on the sunny beaches of Goa. It was a movement made famous thanks to The Beatles, who made the trend even trendier. For the young English guitarist, however, this was much more than an in-thing for wealthy Westerners to do. In time, he converted to the Hindu faith, as did Carlos Santana and Narada Michael Walden, and was re-baptised by his guru, Sri Chinmoy, with the name Mahavishnu. For McLaughlin, this was no passing phase, but rather a deeply personal commitment.
When he recorded My Goal's Beyond, his third album, he was no longer a globe-trotting nomad, flitting from band to band and maestro to maestro. It was his turn to be the leading light, with exquisite music replete with moments of astounding beauty, made possible thanks to his faultless technique.
Back in the days of vinyl, when we had to physically turn a record over to hear the other side, musicians would sometimes take advantage of this obligatory pause, using it to accentuate the change in style from one to the other. McLaughlin did just that, Side A being the work of Mahavishnu leading an orchestra composed of instruments from Europe and India, while the eight songs on Side B, some written by himself, some by other composers, showed the various harmonic melodies that can be played on his beloved acoustic guitar.
Guitarmaker Abraham Wechter wasn't yet to handcraft his masterpiece, the famous Our Lady, his most perfect guitar.
In 2015, after 45 years making music, with Black Light he and 4th Dimension return to his 'fusion' period. The band, made up of Gary Husband on keyboards, Ranjit Baron on percussion and the Cameroonian Étienne M'Bappé on bass, have been with McLaughlin for his last three albums and provide extra musical room for manoeuvre when creating music. The fifth track, 360 Flip, is a fine example of the musical possibilities these three men afford him.
Here, India is nowhere to be seen. Fortunately for us, however, Andalusia is still very much present and can be found on the album's sixth track, El Hombre que Sabía - a majestic piece in which his acoustic once again shines bright. Today's McLaughlin is altogether more relaxed and indeed palatable than his earlier self. This is a return to sophisticated mixes, the elegant jazz that is to be heard in Gaza City, as smooth as velvet, or the rich and vibrant Here Comes the Jiis, whose lightning scales serve to inaugurate the album.
Over the 40 years that have come and gone from his third album to his eighteenth, perhaps some of the tremendous spiritual energy found in the mix of Eastern and Western cultures has gone from his music, to be replaced by a pure essence of beauty - the common denominator to be found in these two albums, which are more similar than the years that separate them would have us believe. For some things, and for some people, time means nothing.
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