John McLaughlin The Heart of Things  

The Heart of Things does get us to the center of the circle. It is from this position we can look at 360 degrees of John McLaughlin's work over the years. A strong line-up featuring McLaughlin alumni Jim Beard on keyboards and Dennis Chambers on drums is joined by electric bass player Matthew Garrison and sax player Gary Thomas for this appealing outing. The newcomers, Garrison and Thomas, front bands of their own and have their own musical ideas. They have integrated these ideas offering some solid support for HOT. Garrison supplies a strong foundation without being too busy and Thomas has that smooth, strong controlled energy in his playing.

HOT is a mixture of Mahavishnu meets Belo Horizonte meets Mahavishnu IV meets The Free Spirits meets The Promise.

McLaughlin's writing and mixing of the album clearly reflects his desire for an ensemble feel. There are solos here and there but, none of them are extended. Chambers' drumming, which has always had a tendency to overwhelm, is much more integrated as part of the mix. Chambers' force has become an issue in several of John's latest recordings and especially in concert. Total mastery of the drum kit is wasted if it becomes so powerful all subtlety is thrown out the window. Chambers shows much more control on HOT.

John's guitar tone is a bit more up-front than recently. This is a very welcome action. Still, despite his beautiful playing on this album, a more limited use of his ring-modulator would have been beneficial.

Those of you familiar with Jim Beard's appearances with Mahavishnu IV, will no doubt recognize his layered synth approach and appreciate it it for what it is- a textural background for others to excel over. Beard does make a strong appearance on piano and he and Gary Thomas open several tunes with themes which can best be described as "Spyro Gyra on Speed".

The album has a general fast-forward take no prisoners attitude. It is clear fusion. The best tune on the album, however, is "Fallen Angels". It is a sullen, slow dirge of joy. For a man who is always being accused of just being a speed demon- some of his best compositions have been slow pieces. These tunes seem to go nowhere and everywhere at the same time. (Mood Jazz). Tunes in this vein which require listening are "Mila Repa" from Que Alegria and "The Translators" from Music Spoken Here.

"Mr. DC", the Dennis Chambers showpiece, is an excuse for a duel in concert. It is much more restrained on the album but does feature quotes from The Dance of Maya and other JM snippets.

Another highlight is "Healing Hands". McLaughlin brings out his old midi-guitar and lays down a big fat statement. This tune is also a direct descendant, if not a bastard child, of Belo Horizonte's "One Melody".

HOT ends on an acoustic note as John revisits "When Love is Far Away" from Tokyo Live. It was unimpressive on that album. Its treatment here is much more fulfilling because everytime John plays solo acoustic guitar, he speaks to God. (Not God in a religious way but as in ..." Oh, God. How can he play that way) ?

The Heart of Things is the most exciting band John has had in some time and bodes well for the future of his music. This album catches the band at a moment in time but does not capture its live spark.

Walter Kolosky

Walter Kolosky is a businessman and jazz fan who lives in South Natick, MA, USA


1. Acid Jazz - (8:19)
2. Seven Sisters - (10:17)
3. Mr. D.C. - (7:07)
4. Fallen Angels - (9:29)
5. Healing Hands - (7:36)
6. When Love Is Far Away - (4:34)

Gary Thomas - tenor & soprano

saxophones, flute
Jim Beard - synthesizers, acoustic piano
Matthew Garrison - bass guitar,
fretless bass guitar
Dennis Chambers - drums
John McLaughlin - electric guitar,
acoustic guitar & MIDI guitar

Victor Williams - percussion
Jean-Paul Celea - acoustic bass on 01

All songs composed by John McLaughlin,
published by Buma/Stemra.

Produced by John McLaughlin

Executive producer: Jean-Philippe Allard & Daniel Richard
Production coordination: Christian Pegand
Assistant production coordination: Karen Strugg

Recorded and mixed at Studio "Officine Mechanice", Milan, Italy
Recording engineers: Paolo Lafelice & Celeste Frigo
Assistant engineer: Maurizio Andiloro

Editing engineer: Massimo Spinosa (Massimo Spinosa Studios - Milan)
Assistant editing engineer: Max Costa

Mixing engineers: Max Costa & Celeste Frigo

Photography: Denis Majorel
Contact sheet background photos: Christian Rose
Design: Alain Frappier
Prepared for release by Patrick Votan.

Special thanks to: Mauro Pagani, Blue Chips Music and Andreas Szalay for the Axon Guitar to MIDI converter, James D'Addario for his strings, Sven Hoffman, Max Costa

John McLaughlin technician assistant: Sven Hoffman

Contact for John McLaughlin: Christian Pegand Productions - Paris, France

GARY THOMAS plays Yanagisawa saxophoes exclusively.
GARY THOMAS uses So Systems microphones.
GARY THOMAS plays Bari reeds.
MATTHEW GARRISON plays Fodera bass guitars & strings, Epifani custom speakers.
DENNIS CHAMBERS plays Pearl drums, Zildjian cymbals and sticks, and uses Evan drum heads
VICTOR WILLIAMS plays Pearl's afro percussion and Sabian cymbals.

  Verve 539 153 (p) 1997