By James Hale | Published August 2021
A sub-40-minute John McLaughlin recording that includes two solo piano tracks by the leader is bound to be frustrating. Add a pair of band recordings that echo vintage Mahavishnu Orchestra rave-ups, one of which includes a guitar solo filled with ridiculous technique, and you have a recipe for considering what might have been. Being locked down in 2020 spurred a creative outpouring that McLaughlin couldn’t ignore, but it’s impossible not to wish this had been a more fulsome recording — with more of the leader’s guitar work to balance the piano musings.
McLaughlin reached out to collaborators around the world, utilizing five studios to patch together the same number of groupings. Adding some consistency, three include McLaughlin’s long-time keyboardist Gary Husband, who doubles on drums on the rollicking “Liberation Time” (which features the aforementioned guitar solo). Even after more than 50 years of hearing McLaughlin tear up the fretboard with solos that move effortlessly through key changes and shifting time signatures, with melodic ideas that leap forward and circle back on themselves, his “Liberation Time” solo sounds astonishing.
“Lockdown Blues,” with the exceptional bassist Etienne MBappé, Husband and drummer Ranjit Barot, is another guitar-driven romp that surges joyously and culminates in Barot’s spirited duet between his drums and his konkol vocal percussion.
The quartet with Husband, bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta sounds only slightly more constrained on the opening “As The Spirit Sings,” and drummer Nicolas Viccaro shines with his quicksilver fills on the steaming “Right Here, Right Now, Right On,” a McLaughlin composition rooted in hard-bop.
“Singing Our Secrets,” with Jean-Michel “Kiki” Aublette on bass and drums, and Roger Rossignol on piano, shifts from ballad to medium-tempo swing and serves up dollops of McLaughlin’s rich, chunky amp tone.
As for the pair of piano solos: At 79, and forced off the road, McLaughlin has earned the right to express himself as he wants. Given his limited keyboard technique, it’s an interesting choice for an artist who has redefined the guitar for so many fans, just as it’s an interesting choice to release such a truncated mixture of material.
In the words of Miles Davis, “Call it what it is”: McLaughlin’s journal of the plague year.
Liberation Time: As The Spirit Sings; Singing Our Secrets; Lockdown Blues; Mila Repa; Right Here, Right Now, Right On; Shade Of Blue; Liberation Time. (37:19)
Personnel: John McLaughlin, guitar (1–3, 5, 7), guitar synth (1–3, 5, 7), piano (4, 6); Julian Siegel, tenor saxophone (5); Roger Rossignol (2), Oz Esseldin (5), piano; Gary Husband, piano (1, 3, 7), drums (7); Etienne MBappé (3), Sam Burgess (1, 7), Jerome Regard (5), bass; Jean-Michel “Kiki” Aublette, bass (2), drums (2); Vinnie Colaiuta (1), Nicolas Viccaro (5), drums; Ranjit Barot, drums (3), vocals (3).
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