REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/24/2007
John McLaughlin was a pioneer of jazz-fusion guitar, and his skill brought him success early in his career as a session musician and ultimately landed him a gig backing Miles Davis on the seminal Bitches Brew.
He recorded as a solo act in the late 60s and early 70s, though most people know him as a founder of the highly influential Mahavishnu Orchstra. Throughout his career he continues to explore many diverse styles, from his jazz roots and rock-flavored fusion, both electric and acoustic, to Indian and world music.
McLaughlin's 1996 release The Promise is an amazing tour through a diverse and eclectic landscape. With a firm foundation in jazz, JM and a stellar cast of guests -- including Jeff Beck, Sting, Michael Brecker, Al DiMeola, Dennis Chambers, Tony Hymas and David Sandborn -- forge their way through varied musical styles.
One of the things I’ve always respected about JM is the way he melds into whatever group of musicians he’s playing with, refusing to make it into the John McLaughlin show. His brilliance shines through while still fiercely maintaining that it’s a group collaboration. Solos and the spotlight are shared equally and everyone gets a chance to shine.
Opening the album, JM pays homage to two jazz legends. The opener “Django” finds JM accompanied by Beck performing a tribute to the great Django Reinhardt. Next up, he explores the influence of Thelonius Monk on “Thelonius Melodius.” JM and crew forge very tasty tracks, from straight, traditional jazz on the Count Basie flavored “No Return” to a 14 minute acid-jazz marathon on “Jazz Jungle.”
JM is a guy who’s been all over the map musically, which is I why I picked this disc. Woven throughout are the solid jazz-fusion threads that form the essence of his career. Along for the ride is a good dose of rock, Dixieland, electronica, folk and world music, and a fantastic supporting cast to back him up. It’s almost as if he sat down to create a prefect cross-section of his career.
Coming rather late in the big picture of McLaughlin's five-decade career, it’s a fitting way to introduce yourself to his genius.