John McLaughlin

The Heart of Things

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Although not referred to as such by name, this is a mid-'90s incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra idea -- another quintet fronted by John McLaughlin playing electric jazz-rock with virtuosity to burn. As before, when the name was last floated in the 1980s, it is a very different sound, but closer to the original Mahavishnu blend than the '80s version ever got. There are rapid-fire unison statements as in the old days, but now softer and more complex in texture and definitely lower in volume. Dennis Chambers, a leftover from the McLaughlin organ trio of the early '90s, is probably the most incendiary drummer McLaughlin has featured since Billy Cobham, and he really mixes things up throughout the CD, including a sizzling one-on-one duel with the guitarist on the questionably titled "Acid Jazz." McLaughlin brandishes his technique with the old flash, yet as has been the pattern in his middle age, his tone is mellow and rounded, often heard through the transforming gauze of MIDI electronics. The experienced Jim Beard is responsible for the keyboard textures; Gary Thomas offers capable tenor, soprano and flute leads; Matthew Garrison (son of Jimmy) is the excellent electric bass player, and they are often augmented by the Latin percussion of Victor Williams. Again, one can say that McLaughlin's playing is more musical and charged with greater authority now than a quarter of a century ago, though not as hot in temperature. Even so, this is the warmest his music has been since the Mahavishnu days.

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