A Conversation with John McLaughlin
“ I have been playing guitar my whole life. I know what problems can confront the enthusiastic guitar student. ”
Trying to classify guitarist and composer John McLaughlin's music is like trying to grab a handful of mercury. McLaughlin himself is fond of pointing out that words can't describe music anyway. Music must be experienced. For over forty years McLaughlin's compositions and unparalleled guitar playing have helped us experience blues, rock, jazz, jazz-rock fusion, Indian ragas and classical forms one at a time or co-mingled as only he can present them. His music may not be describable, but like mercury, it is one of the great wonders of the world.
There is a wise business adage that goes something like this: "It is one thing to know how to build a company, but the most successful business people are the ones who know how to take one apart." This maxim simply suggests that those who understand how to dissemble and re-align the basic components of the whole are those who will succeed. This analogy also describes the true magic of John McLaughlin and his music. He has a stronghold on the true fundamentals of the simplicity of music. He has usurped music's technical and emotional building blocks to create great architecture. He is a master builder.
He laid the foundation in his younger days that led to him eventually play with Graham Bond, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. He built the first floor by helping to lead musical revolutions with Tony Williams and Miles Davis. His incomparable Mahavishnu Orchestra constructed the staircase to the second level which housed his Indo-jazz Shakti and his acoustic outings with Paco DeLucia and Al DiMeola. Another wing was added as he experimented with the new musical technology of the guitar synthesizer and wrote classical guitar concertos. In recent years, along with musical brother Zakir Hussain, he has helped to renovate the second floor with the electric Remember Shakti. Funny thing about this building that Mclaughlin is constructing, though. It has no roof.
John McLaughlin has produced another remarkable album for Verve entitled Thieves and Poets. While not jazz in its truest sense, improvisation comes as a breeze though some of the open windows of McLaughlin's musical edifice. McLaughlin recorded the piece with acoustic guitar and symphony orchestra. It is broad in scope but quite thematic. Also featured are four acoustic guitar pieces McLaughlin performs with the Aighetta Guitar Quartet dedicated to musical influences. For this outing he pays homage to four pianists and friends who have influenced McLaughlin both in music and in life. They are Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
For McLaughlin fans this has been a year of great bounty. In addition to the new CD and other interesting things on their way, McLaughlin is on the new Miroslav Vitous release featuring the fusion bassist, Jack DeJohnette and Chick Corea. This year has also seen the re-release of legendary McLaughlin performances from Miles Davis' Tribute to Jack Johnson album that features many before unheard takes. Also just released and re-mastered with extra cuts is the album McLaughlin recorded with his good friend Carlos Santana, Love Devotion and Surrender. And if these riches were not enough, McLaughlin's collaboration on the tune "Flame Sky", along with Carlos once again, is seeing the light of day with the reissue of Santana's "Welcome."
Recently while on another very successful U.S. tour with Remember Shakti, McLaughlin spoke to AAJ about his new album and about other things that especially interested AAJ's interviewer. While McLaughlin is clearly a musical genius and can talk in great depth about many topics, one can not have a conversation with him without realizing that at heart, he is a very down-to-earth guy.
AAJ: Film Director Steven Spielberg was in the audience at a recent Remember Shakti show. His presence reminds me of the wonderful soundtrack recording you did for the European movie Molom a few years back. Have you been approached to score any other movies?
JM: Yes, its funny you should ask that. After our Vancouver show backstage in jumped a couple of really famous people that told us they were interested in having Shakti do the music for their next movie. It was very sweet and complimentary. There has been talk about another movie as well. But, you know these things are always are up in the air. In Houston, a scientist came up after the show and he said "Unbelievable. Can you do the music? I am making a movie about sub-atomic particles." [Laughing.] Well, I would love to do the music for sub-atomic particles. It was fantastic. It was so touching.
AAJ: Speaking of Remember Shakti...
JM: Yes, the current tour has gone phenomenally well. It's almost too much sometimes... I don't know... you can never have too much applause Walter. The reaction from the people, I don't know. It's wonderful.
AAJ: Sometimes you just don't question things, John.
JM: This is true. This is true.