The Free Spirits featuring John McLaughlin Tokyo Live  

It had not been since 1985 that John McLaughlin had put out a record featuring an electric guitar. Tokyo Live was released in 1994 and showed the music world, once again, how McLaughlin can reinvent himself. This time in the context of The Free Spirits, a B-3 based jazz trio which featured McLaughlin on a Johnnie Smith electric guitar, organist Joey DeFrancesco and powerhouse drummer, Dennis Chambers. It was an ailing McLaughlin who was recorded on two different nights at the Tokyo Blue Note. He had recently suffered a back injury while playing with his dog on the beach and apparently dealt with much pain during his sets.

Those hoping for a 1990's version of the Tony Williams Lifetime will be disappointed by this record. Those hoping to hear a wailing, plaintiff, distorted guitar will be be upset. McLaughlin's tone is somewhat warm and processed and sometimes is easily lost in the cascading of a busy B-3 barrage. But, the chops are vintage McLaughlin. They are more blues-tinged than expected. He plays through and around and underneath the changes and his unison lines with DeFrancesco make you wonder if two musicians are actually playing as to separate the sounds is almost impossible. His empathy, if we can distort the word's meaning somewhat, with the supercharged Chambers is evident from the first beat and several top-notch compositions, most notably "Vukovar" make for an exciting and pleasing outing.

One of the criticisms being leveled at McLaughlin's recent works has been the suggestion that since he doesn't quite play the same style he used to - (Okay, Okay, The Mahavishnu Orchestra Style) - he is no longer the guitar hero he once was. My God! The man is in his fifties. His head is in an entirely new place. One of the reasons Jazz is such a great music is that it allows for changes. The change in age. The change in taste. The change in experience. One thing is for sure, my friends. Mr. McLaughlin is still very unpredictable. And I for one, want him to remain that way!

Walter Kolosky

Walter Kolosky is a jazz fan and founder of who lives in Braintree, MA, USA


1. 1 Nite Stand - (7:05)
2. Hijacked - (10:25)
3. When Love Is Far Away - (4:56)
4. Little Miss Valley - (10:56)
5. Juju at the Crossroads - (5:15)
6. Vukovar - (12:11)
7. No Blues - (4:27)
8. Mattinale - (19:42)

John McLaughlin - guitar
Joey DeFrancesco -

Hammond XB-3 organ and trumpet
Dennis Chambers - drums

All compositions by John McLaughlin,

except 'No Blues' by Miles Davis
Produced by John McLaughlin
Executive producer: Jean-Philippe Allard
Digitally recorded live on December
16 and 18, 1993 at The Blue Note
Tokyo jazz club, Tokyo, Japan

  Verve 521-870 (p) 1994