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McLaughlin Showcases Many Styles on Latest Release

Jazz musician John McLaughlin and the group Tony Williams Lifetime have released a new CD, "The Promise", which was recorded over four months. Its 11 tracks touch on every phase of McLaughlin's musical career.

BOB EDWARDS, Host: John McLaughlin is a guitar guru. His heavily amplified playing helped change the sound of jazz in the late 1960s, when he was with the Miles Davis fusion band. Since then, he's brought his electric and acoustic guitar to an assortment of bands, playing jazz-rock, flamenco and Indian-influenced music. On his latest CD, McLaughlin takes a new approach to the many styles of music he's played over the years. Tom Vitale reports.

TOM VITALE, Reporter: John McLaughlin calls his new CD The Promise because, he says, that's what music is.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN, Musician: I remember very distinctly the first musical experience I had. Of course, it was a listening experience. I was five years old. I was listening to Beethoven, because I was from a big family. My mother was a violinist, so classical music was played in the house, and I remember one day hearing - or rather, listening, which is an act - and I discovered what listening to music was, and I think in that moment, because it was so beautiful, that's where music makes a promise.

TOM VITALE: McLaughlin says it was the promise of beauty.


TOM VITALE: The CD The Promise is a kind of musical autobiography. Recorded in six countries over four months last year, the 11 tracks touch on every phase of the 54-year-old guitarist's career. John McLaughlin started out in the early 1960s, playing rhythm and blues on the London club circuit. A two-guitar blues jam, called `Django, ' opens the CD. The other soloist is Jeff Beck.


JOHN McLAUGHLIN: Jeff is so soulful, he's a killer. This tune that we recorded, `Django,' which I thought was very appropriate, too, it was written by John Lewis after the death of Django Reinhardt. And we went in the studio, we hadn't- we hadn't played for 20 years, and we just plugged in, and it's like 20 years disappeared in the blink of an eye. It was spooky. And what you have on the thing is the first take.


JOHN McLAUGHLIN: There's something about a guitar, and I don't know what it is - how or why guitars love each other. They just go very well together. You can put any kind of guitar with any other kind of guitar, and it will just go together.

TOM VITALE: The Promise also reunites McLaughlin with guitarist Paco de Lucia and Al DiMeola, a trio that dates back to the early 1980s. McLaughlin says his musical odyssey began listening to flamenco and rhythm and blues on the radio in the early 1950s, when he was growing up in Yorkshire in northern England. He says he became caught up in jazz after he moved to London to work when he was 16.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN: You needed discipline with which to master your instrument, and I think you have to adopt a classical discipline or a jazz discipline, and I would say that jazz is and jazz will always be my great love.

TOM VITALE: John McLaughlin earned his place in jazz history by transcending the limitations of the form, as the guitarist with the groundbreaking Miles Davis Electric Band of the late 1960s. McLaughlin revisits that period in his career on his new CD by recreating another seminal fusion band, the Tony Williams Lifetime. This time, the drummer is Dennis Chambers, formerly of Parliament/Funkadelic.

DENNIS CHAMBERS, Drummer, Tony Williams Lifetime: John sort of wrote the book on fusion guitar, didn't he? He invented the speed and chop thing, you know.


TOM VITALE: The organist in McLaughlin's trio is 24-year-old Joey Defrancesco, who says over the years McLaughlin has developed his own sound.

JOEY DEFRANCESCO, Organist, Tony Williams Lifetime: Nobody plays like that. The things he does on guitar just totally amaze me, you know? His accuracy and his technique and his speed and at the same time, the musical knowledge of what he knows, it's just a lot of music. It's just incredible. If I'm ever half that kind of a musician, I'll be happy.


TOM VITALE: `All music is a challenge,' says John McLaughlin. While his interests and influences range from jazz to classical forms, he says he has no qualms about playing simple, three-chord pop music.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN: What about a structure of an Indian piece? It doesn' t have any chords, it has one rhythmic cycle. So we're going to take the simplest rhythmic cycle, 16 beats. More simple, you die. But isn't that- isn't that maybe one of the greatest challenges, to be able to do something on a simple tune?


TOM VITALE: McLaughlin's new record reunites him with one of the members of his mid-1970s trio, Shakti [sp], a group which put a musical face on his interest in Indian culture. That interest deepened in 1970, when he became a disciple of guru Sri Chinmoy. Their association lasted five years, during which time McLaughlin formed his own high- energy fusion band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. He says then, he was interested in creating what he calls `strong music.' Today, he sees things differently.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN: Because I think with this- with this accent on strong music, it tends to override any aspects of vulnerability which are absolutely essential in any participating thing like making music. Somebody once said, `There's only one thing worse than being vulnerable, is being invulnerable.'

TOM VITALE: John McLaughlin will tour India next year with a group of classical Indian musicians. He'll play the music of John Coltrane this summer in Europe and record a new acoustic album with Paco de Lucia and Al DiMeola this spring. His current CD, The Promise, is on the Verve label.

For National Public Radio, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

BOB EDWARDS: This is NPR's Morning Edition; I'm Bob Edwards.

Copyright © 1996 by National Public Radio. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

McLaughlin Showcases Many Styles on Latest Release., Morning Edition (NPR), 04-04-1996.

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