John McLaughlin

Electric Guitarist/Electric Dreams

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Since both of these post-Shakti albums feature the word "electric" in their titles, it seems that guitarist McLaughlin wanted to emphasize his more plugged-in side to those who might not have followed along on three previous releases featuring his acoustic world music band. He also thumbs through his impressive phone book to call in some of the cream of the 1977 crop of jazz fusionists to help him out on Electric Guitarist, a true return to form. Ex-Mahavishnu members Jerry Goodman and Billy Cobham assist in kicking things off just like in the old days with "New York on My Mind," a tune that could have been an outtake from his earlier Mahavishnu Orchestra work. Also along for the ride is Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, David Sanborn, Carlos Santana, Jack Bruce, and four legendary drummers including Cobham, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, and Narada Michael Walden. Unfortunately, the credits don't specify who plays on which track (well-written liner notes would help there), but anyone familiar with the distinctive styles of these artists can easily pick them out. McLaughlin is in fine form throughout, especially when playing clean, staccato, bent notes on the ballad "Every Tear from Every Eye." The majority of the selections stay in a more subtle but amped-up groove as McLaughlin shifts from dreamy to a faster, more straight-ahead tempo on the seven-minute "Do You Hear the Voices that You Left Behind?" A duet with Billy Cobham on "Phenomenon: Compulsion" provides the set's most frantic fireworks as both musicians air out their chops on a breathless, galloping piece with some of the guitarist's most furious picking. Electric Dreams features McLaughlin's One Truth band on an album from the same year. The same players back him throughout, so the sound isn't quite as diverse. There is still a nice balance of ballads and burners, and some tunes that mix both such as "Desire and the Comforter," which is pushed by Fernando Saunders' amplified fretless bass, a ringer for Jaco Pastorius. Saunders takes the collection's only vocal on "Love and Understanding," undercut by well-meaning but schlock-heavy lyrics about being one with the universe as McLaughlin does his best Santana impersonation. The boat rights itself for the two final fusion numbers that find the group locking in and McLaughlin spinning off sweet, sharp lines that leave no doubt as to how exceptional a guitarist he is. BGO's remastering is clean and these titles make perfect companions on a single disc with almost 80 minutes of prime, very electric John McLaughlin music.

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