Saturday, January 4, 2014

Influences and Inspirations: John McLaughlin

Jan. 4: Happy birthday John McLaughlin!

Live at the Royal Festival HallRemember Shakti: The Way of Beauty

John McLaughlin has been a true master and at the same time a genuine seeker, for all of his 40+ years in music. For many years I have admired his adventurous spirit - pushing jazz to new heights by blending it with a wide range of other styles and multi-cultural influences.  His technique is phenomenal, his phrasing endlessly inventive, and his spiritual commitment is deep. It is McLaughlin (along with Carlos Santana) who made me see that playing music can be a path to spiritual discovery. He balances stunning virtuosity with passionate emotion, reminding me to strive for excellence, but also to allow myself to get lost in the moment. His amazingly diverse body of work sends a message that there is no need to be limited by definitions or categories. Jazz, rock, acoustic, electric, Western, Eastern - all mingle and interact in his work, with tremendous positive energy and joyous spirit. This again reflects the spiritual quest, in which one aims to drop the illusion of separation between one's self and everything else.

Here's a clip from his latest album, Now Here This . At age 72, he is still writing, recording and performing incredible new music with the most kickass musicians on the planet.

Here's a great interview (audio only) done in 2009 by Andy Ellis:

It includes wonderful insights from John on a wide range of subjects, and a superb selection of diverse song excerpts.

Essential listening:
Mahavishnu Orchestra, Inner Mounting Flame 
Shakti, Natural Elements 
Friday Night In San Francisco
Live At The Royal Festival Hall
Time Remembered: John McLaughlin Plays Bill Evans

Also essential is the DVD: Remember Shakti: The Way of Beauty, which offers a full concert of his most Indian influenced music, along with documentary footage on the history of the band Shakti, and John's remarkable lifelong friendship and collaboration with the amazing tabla player Zakir Hussain.

Here's some links to some excellent recent articles/interviews:
Barry Cleveland: Lunch With John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin: Musical and Spiritual Connection
John McLaughlin - To The One

With a career that has so many awe-inspiring, exhilarating moments, it is so hard to pick just one video clip to share. Here's one from the 1977 album Natural Elements, part of his epic exploration of Indian music with the group Shakti:

This clip is from what I think is one of the greatest groups he ever had, featuring the amazing Trilok Gurtu on percussion. You can hear this group on the 1989 album Live at the Royal Festival Hall.

This piece is from Time Remembered, his 1993 tribute to jazz pianist Bill Evans, featuring John plus a classical guitar quartet, playing absolutely gorgeous arrangements of Bill Evans tunes.

And finally, here's one that's not like anything else you'll hear him do, but isn't that just like him...


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