Friday, September 1, 2017

John McLaughlin - 2003 - Montreux Concerts

John McLaughlin 
Montreux Concerts

Mahavishnu Orchestra
July 7, 1974 
Convention Center, Montreux 

101. Power Of Love (5:54)
102. Wings Of Karma (21:43)
103. Smile Of The Beyond (23:25)

201. Vision Is A Naked Sword (26:04)
202. Hymn To Him (28:29)
203. Sanctuary (17:27)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Bob Knapp (flute, percussions)
Steve Frankovich (horns)
Gayle Moran (organ, voc)
Jean-Luc Ponty (violin)
Steve Kindler (violin)
Carol Shive (violin)
Marsha Westbrook (alto)
Phillip Hirschi (cello)
Ralphe Armstrong (bass)
Michael Walden (drums)

July 6, 1976 
Montreux Casino

101. Joy (13:29)
102. India (22:47)

201. Nata (36:23)
202. Kriti (4:10)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
L. Shankar (violin)
T.H. Vinayakram (ghatam, mridangam)
Zakir Hussain (tabla)

July 8, 1977
Montreux Casino

01. La Danse Du Bonheur (11:29)
02. India (23:46)
03. Get Down And Sruti (28:38)
04 Joy (8:52)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
L. Shankar (violin)
T.H. Vinayakram (ghatam, mridangam)
Zakir Hussain (tabla)

John McLaughlin One Truth Band
July 19, 1978 
Montreux Casino

01. Meeting Of The Spirits (16:57)
02. Friendship (11:48)
03. Two Sisters (5:38)
04. Mind Ecology & Do You Hear The Voices We Left Behind (27:51)
05. Phenomenon Compulsion & Hope (8:16)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Stu Goldberg (keyboards)
L. Shankar (violin)
T.M. Stevens (bass)
W. "Sonship" Theus (drums)

John McLaughlin with Chick Corea
July 15, 1981 
Montreux Casino

01. La Baleine (9:21)
02. Waltze (8:42)
03. Romance (10:24)
04. Sketches (9:33)
05. Turn Around (10:43)
06. Thelonius Melodius (8:43)
07. Beautiful Love (dedicated to Bill Evans) (6:31)

Chick Corea (piano)
John McLaughlin (guitar)

Mahavishnu Orchestra
July 18, 1984 
Montreux Casino 

101. Radio Activity (9:43)
102. Nostalgia (11:13)
103. East Side West Side (14:19)
104. Clarendon Hills (9:53)
105. Blues For L.W., It's The Pits & Living On The Crest Of A Wave (13:42)

201. Jozy (13:28)
202.Pacific Express (21:06)
203. Mitch Match (7:47)
204. Mitch Match (reprise) (6:09)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Bill Evans (saxophone)
Mitchell Forman (keyboards)
Jonas Hellborg (bass)
Danny Gottlieb (drums)

John McLaughlin And Paco De Lucia
July 15, 1987 
Montreux Casino

101. One Melody & My Foolish Heart (9:09)
102. El Panuelo (6:12)
103. Spain (10:11)
104. Chiquito (8:45)
105. Florianapolis (11:37)

201. Frevo (7:55)
202 David (10:58)
203 Sichia (7:04)
204 Guardian Angels (6:31)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Paco de Lucia (guitar)

John McLaughlin With The Free Spirits
July 4, 1993 
Stravinski Auditorium

01. Thelonius Melodius (7:04)
02. Matinale (16:18)
03. When Love Is Far Away (5:52)
04. Nostalgia (7:16)
05. Mother Tongues (13:50)
06. One Nite Stand (4:35)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Joey DeFrancesco (organ, trumpet on "When Love Is Far Away")
Dennis Chambers (drums)

John McLaughlin With The Free Spirits
July 18, 1995 
Stravinski Auditorium

101. Tones For Elvin Jones (9:21)
102. Matinale (20:18)
103. Sing Me Softly Of The Blues (7:55)
104. The Wall Will Fall (14:28)00

201. After The Rain (5:58)
202. Mother Tongues (20:50)
203. Old Folks (6:33)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Joey DeFrancesco (organ, trumpet)
Dennis Chambers (drums)

John McLaughlin and The Heart Of Things
July 11, 1998 
Stravinski Auditorium

01 Seven Sisters (14:05)
02 Social Climate (9:47)
03 Mr. D.C. (12:53)
04 Tony (7:21)
05 Acid Jazz (12:53)
06 Jazz Jungle (9:40)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Gary Thomas (saxophone, flute)
Jim Beard (keyboards)
Matthew Garrison (bass)
Dennis Chambers (drums)

Remember Shakti
July 8, 1999 
Miles Davis Hall

01. Five In The Morning, 6 In The Afternoon (16:51)
02. Ma No Pa (11:16)
03. Anna (14:30)
04. Finding The Way (20:15)
05. La Danse Du Bonheur (4:50)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Zakir Hussain (tabla)
Uppalapu Shrinivas (mandolin)
V. Selvaganesh (Indian percussions)

Bonus CD

July 4, 1993 
Stravinski Auditorium 

01. Canto de Xango (6:12)

Carlos Santana (guitar)
Alex Ligertwood (vocals)
Chester Thompson (keyboards)
Myron Dove (bass)
Walfredo Reyes (drums)
Armando Peraza (percussions)
Raul Rekow (congas)
Karl Perrazzo (timbales)
John McLaughlin (guitar)

July 8, 1996 
Stravinski Auditorium

02 Frevo (9:00)

John McLaughlin (guitar)
Paco de Lucia (guitar)

In 1970, I set off for the Isle of Wight with a rucksack, mountain boots and golfing trousers. Among the many concerts, which included those of The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Joni Mitchell, my biggest surprise was the discovery of Lifetime, with Tony Williams on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and John McLaughlin on guitar.I was familiar with John?s first LP, “Extrapolation”, produced by Giorgio Gomelsky in 1969, and had been greatly impressed by it.
At that time, in parallel with the Montreux Jazz Festival, which I founded in 1967, I was organising other concerts throughout the year and, in 1972, I was fortunate enough to welcome The Mahavishnu Orchestra ? a concert that took place at the Pavillon some eight months after the fire at the Montreux Casino. To my great regret, this concert was not recorded. .
After that concert, I asked the band to come back to Montreux to perform at the Festival. For the closing night of the 8th edition in 1974, the programme comprised three groups: the Gil Evans Orchestra, followed by Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, gong and whistle (!) and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The powerful sound, the perfect complicity between John and Jean-Luc Ponty, an awesome rhythm section, a brass section and four violins literally stunned the audience ! In 1976, John came back with a completely different line-up by the name of Shakti. The combination with Indian musicians was a discovery full of freshness, virtuosity and sensibility.
As for the concert with Chick Corea in 1981, John gave the impression that they had been playing together for many years although they had only met very recently.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra returned in 1984 but with other musicians and, there too, the concert was remarkable. Then came another prestigious duo with Paco de Lucia in 1987, followed by two performances by John with The Free Spirits in 1993 and 1995: the lineup is the same in both cases, and the guitar / Hammond B3 organ format with Joey DeFrancesco works wonderfully. Yet another group arrived in 1998: The Heart of things. Audiences always appreciate John?s improvisation talents, and his skill in presenting very different concerts is truly exceptional. Shakti came back in 1999, again with Zakir Hussain on tabla. To complete the richness of John?s Montreux recordings, the improvised encounter between John and Carlos Santana on a title is presented on the bonus CD, along with another collaboration between John and Paco de Lucia in 1996. The 17 CDs in this box set constitute a live testimony of the concerts recorded between 1974 and 1999. It is a veritable musical journey with a creative freedom that only exists in concert situations where the artist can play without a safety-net.
To retain the freshness of the live recordings, the original stereo tapes have neither been revamped nor remixed. In an age where technology makes all kinds of effects possible, it takes the creative power of John McLaughlin and his musicians to dare to release music such as it was shared by thousands of spectators at the Montreux Jazz Festival. 

John McLauglin has performed fifteen times at Montreux in four different places. Fifteen concerts, fifteen appearances, in the company of forty-four different musicians.
This series of fifteen spiritual exercises, in front of one of the most discerning, good-humoured, attentive and laid-back audiences of the late 20th century, was accomplished between 1972 and 2001. McLaughlin, whose discography is as extensive as it is varied, and can be compared to few in his time, says he prefers recording in public. He finds the atmosphere more open, less artificial than in the studio. The musicians are faced with their imperfections but are before their truth; the raw life of the music can be perceived.
The series of Montreux recordings reveals a freshness, a capacity for renewal and a flexibility in changing direction that are infinitely rarer than is believed. They oblige the listener to concentrate on the essence of John McLaughlin: his spiritual dimension, his sharp intelligence, his speed and his aptitude for a form of confrontation that involves neither rivalry nor competition. For him, confrontation is simply another incitement to yet more music.
In a way, and far more rigorously than a legion of eager disciples, McLaughlin is one of the rare musicians to have truly succeeded in taking Coltrane literally. What is he seeking ? And at Montreux, what does he seek on stage, in public, for everyone, before everyone, in life, live ? What is he seeking if it is not improvisation itself, the mathematics of the moment, focussed madness ?
As far is the improvisation is concerned, there are two fundamental schools: jazz and Indian music. McLaughlin seeks the winning formula of their intersection. At one stage, because of this, some preferred to believe in a popular synthesis on his part. It was more reassuring.
He pushes the experience to the limits of joy: More often than not, people confine it to performance, velocity, “technique”. It is easier for them to make sense of that way.
His spiritual quest (Zen Buddhism), reflection and meditation carry this experience through. Out of ignorance observers reduce it to a secret adherence, which, out of wariness and courtesy, they do not dwell upon.
Technique ? “You misunderstand the meaning of the word “technique”. Technique does not mean playing an avalanche of notes. It means playing the right notes at the right moment. Like with jazz.”
With regard to technique, McLaughin has neither the amateur?s self-consciousness nor the apprentice?s admiration. He knows than many rock guitarists no doubt play better than John Lee Hooker, but none plays as well. He says the same of Robert Johnson, of the Muddy Waters of the ?50s, and Fred McDowell.
He began with the blues, which he considers the great foundation: Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Alexis Korner? After which, in 1956, at the age of fifteen, he swore by hard-bop and performed Horace Silver and Jackie McLean cover versions in a classic quintet. He then went from Brian Auger to Gunter Hampel, from pop to free. He disliked very free jazz, which he played for a while, but he did like Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Sharrock, in whose company he recorded with Wayne Shorter - which was a sign - and the great Shepp of the Impulse albums.
In 1972, McLaughlin had already lived several lives. To begin with, there had been his first band with John Surman, Tony Oxley, Brian Odges - the cream of the British free scene (Extrapolation, 1969); his friendship with Dave Holland, who had facilitated his joining Tony Williams? Lifetime in which he learned great freedom (Emergency, 1969). His path crossed those of Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles. Then came a three-year collaboration with Miles Davis, an edifying experience, following which, he took the name of Mahavishnu, becoming a disciple of Sri Chinmoy Ghose and releasing a solo album that served as a milestone: My Goals Beyond (1970). He then formed the first Mahavishnu Orchestra with Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman, Rick Laird and Billy Cobham (The Inner Mounting Flame, 1971). 

In 1972, he met another of his guru?s disciples, Carlos Santana: Love Devotion Surrender. When John arrived on the lakeshore, he was a thousand years early, a thousand years ahead of his time. In fact, he was neither ahead nor behind, as this question is meaningless in his career. But he had explored nearly all the crucial issues of the time and was already elsewhere. He was just over thirty years of age.
Over the years at Montreux - facing the lake, surrounded by the Alps that give the air its superb transparency with, far away in the distance, Chillon Castle, where Byron was imprisoned ? in exceptional conditions (lighting, technical crew, sound, exactitude, hotel industry, spirit of the audiences, Claude Nobs? enthusiasm), forty-four different musicians were to perform alongside McLaughlin. Among them, temperamental bassists, a legendary gypsy Flamenco artist, an Indian mandolin player, a few pop icons, a classical violist, four moustached Hispanics, as many violinists as percussionists of all styles and a few Miles defectors.
Miles came to Montreux as often as, or more often than John. That can be checked. Musicians, like painters, call each other by their first names: the public would do well to stick to surnames. Miles Davis therefore came to Montreux as often as, or more often than John McLaughlin. They never played there together.
Between 1969 and 1972, McLaughin contributed to seven of Miles? albums: In a Silent Way, Jack Johnson, Bitches Brew, Big Fun, Get Up with It, Live / Evil, On the Corner. Scarcely had he entered the studio for In A Silent Way, with a Gibson Hummingbird flat top acoustic, in awe at finding himself in that exceptional situation, than the red light was turned on and the tapes started turning. There was big money involved. John saw Miles come sauntering over, lean forward, trumpet in hand, move his lips to his ear and murmur in that seductive toad?s voice, which had been sculpted with the burin of his rages: “John, play like you don?t know how to play.”
Miles completely transformed his playing without him realising it. The sorcerer?s definitive gift.

McLaughlin speaks of Miles as he speaks of music: with serenity, exactitude, and precision. He delivers his judgements on music with good-humoured assurance. He makes no mistakes. He knows that Miles hated repeating himself, could not stand it when something he said was not understood immediately. It is a rare characteristic, a sign of the impatient generosity of those who give everything.
McLaughlin has a keen sense of debt, of loyalty, of history. It is this that has allowed him autonomy and the possibility of breaking away. He is permanently paying off his debt to Miles and to those who taught him. He knows the price of discipline.
He believes in discipline, in technique, and in the relationship of mastery: His smile and his taste for freedom are rooted in it. As for speed, would anyone reproach Coltrane or a performer of Liszt for playing too many notes ? Like Miles, the exact notes must be played at the right time. Their number has little importance. That said, he has a natural ease and unlimited possibilities in his hands.
What was he to do with it all ? At the age of eleven, he played until his fingers bled.
He knew that when Miles invited him to collaborate with him in 1969, when John was twenty-eight, it was already too late. He had learned too much fundamental freedom in Tony Williams? Lifetime. Backstage, in front of Sly Stone, he and Larry Young had danced like crazy. He could no longer devote himself to one person exclusively, even if that person was Miles. Particularly as the latter himself was pushing him, saying: “Put your own band together. The time is right.” 

Fifteen dates at Montreux
20 August 1972, 7 July 1974: Mahavishnu Orchestra. The first time as a quintet, with around fifty cases just to transport Billy Cobham?s drumkit. The sound was extraordinary. The second time they performed as an eleventet, with Jean-Luc Ponty and his blue violin, a female altist and violinist, and Michael Walden on drums. McLaughlin's biographies always read rather like a career plan that has been put together by organised demiurges. This is only a retrospective impression; it is impossible to fathom such a singular genius. An attempt should be made to see certain other aspects: the solutions of continuity (the break-up of Mahavishnu); the alternation of acoustic and electric, the permanence of acoustic beneath electric; the art of separation (L. Shankar); the music?s spiritual approach at the risk of sacrifice (Shakti's split); the pleasure of encounters; love; the role of oblivion and non-knowledge, the pleasure of playing and happy accidents; the passion of playing. The questions, like the music, are omnipresent. What can be done with that vital energy, that elegance ? How can they be sustained ? What does moving towards perfection imply ? How can the desires of the other be responded to ? What can you do when all the musicians on the planet want to play with you and you with them ? How can appeal be acclimatised ? What can be done with success, with anticipation ?
And yet more questions: Vibrato or legato ? What if playing legato resulted in the flowing of long harmonic rivers, without rushing anything, discreet, with ascents that are all the more subtle in that they are hidden beneath brilliant virtuosity, with notes held like captive pleasure before they plunge into the depths of great secrets ?

In 1976 and 77, Shakti succeeded Mahavishnu. McLaughin broke away from Sri Chinmoy and went back to the six-string acoustic guitar: L. Shankar on violin, T.H. Vinayakram (ghatma and mridangam), Zakir Hussain on tablas. The following year, the group was more composite. 

15 July 1981: a staggering duo, Chick Corea and McLaughlin. As Miles said, “the guys I used to play with knew how to do everything; today, they know how to do one thing really well, but only one?” Chick Corea and McLaughlin are among the last musicians who know how to do everything. Together, in public, they have enough energy and self-oblivion to lose themselves in the music, the interplay, the surprises - in what they do not know.

The adventure was repeated with Paco de Lucia (15 July 1987). In the meantime (1984), Mahavishnu reappeared, with Bill Evans (Miles' blond saxophonist) and the incredible Jonas Hellborg on bass.Then came a historic concert featuring many: the encounter with Carlos Santana (1993), when we notice, the Montreux performances were not so frequent. 
The trio Free Spirits (1995), the Heart of Things three years later (1998), the Remember Shakti (1999) and Shakti (2001). 

Let us dwell a moment on the collaboration with Paco de Lucia. In the beginning, the specialised press knew very little about the man they saw as “very flamenco”. In effect, Paco de Lucia is one of the 20th century?s greatest flamenco artists. Like the blues, McLaughlin had known (loved) the flamenco art since his teens. His achievement was understanding them, making their encounter possible, deflecting the great gypsy?s playing without taking away any of his personality. The audience immediately heard the secrets of the formula. In a milieu that is quite delicate psychologically (musicians in general, jazz, rock and pop performers in particular), something resulted from a remarkable form of wisdom, humour and generosity, from an interplay that can be perceived in many of the recordings: As a frontman, McLaughlin knows how to make himself discreet.
His questions are essential. He has been working on the guitar since the age of eleven. If two days go by without him having played he is miserable and irritable. His school, Miles and Coltrane. His questioning: why are there so few guitarists with them and none who plays in that style ? Why does he feel isolated ? 

He turns this isolation into a means of acquiring more knowledge. He defines the limits of his celebrated technique. He does not over-estimate them, does not under-estimate them either. He knows his technique is a dynamically evolving state. Improvisation requires oblivion, you have to know a great deal to venture into unknown areas. He was the first to use complex altered scales, bent notes and odd meters with innovative distortions, power and rhythms. As he says, “the most beautiful thing is to play something for the first time in your life”.
Does he have a formula ? Yes. Find a teacher, whatever he or she is worth ? the student will very soon find his bearings - stay sincere, move towards the complex, dominate the instrument and commit yourself to exercises as you commit yourself to meditation. “Write down random sets of chords, then play them rhythmically - 6/8, 4/8, 3/8, 7/8, 5/8, 9/8, 11/8, 13/8, 21/8 ? anything you want. Start with the first string and slowly play four quarter-notes to the measure ? all downstrokes. Next, while maintaining the same tempo, switch to alternate strokes and start progressing from eighths to triplets to sixteenths to sextuplets to thirty-seconds to thirty-second-note triplets to sixty-fourths and back down again. Try with odd rhythms too, five, seven, etc.
Divide five into two plus three. Go from one group to another without losing fluidity, work on several strings... Eventually you start finding chinks in your knowledge, and then some lights in the darkness.”
Losing yourself in music is like starting to find yourself. It is what is called luck. You are laid bare in improvisation. You become aware of an infinite ignorance that you had forgotten. You lose sight of playing without ceasing to observe it. Zen Buddhism opened the doors of non-knowledge for him.
Ramana Maharsi (Venkataraman Aiyer) was his first reading matter; Milarepa (1052-1135, Poetic Songs), Lao Tseu, Hatha Yoga soon followed. McLaughlin found his own variant. It can sometimes be heard in his music.
What do you do when you know too much and you know that this too much is nothing ? You move closer to knowledge, paradox, the mysterious enigma of levels of conscience. There is nothing dazzling, artificial or overwhelming in his playing: like the Greeks, like Bach, like great Afro-American and Indian music, McLaughin confines himself to precision, rigour and the humility of mathematics.
His smile comes from that interiority. What is curious about his enterprise is the continuity, permanence, persistence, and the adherence of the widest and most fervent audiences, to which this very important Montreux series testifies.
One evening, without warning, his favourite guitar, a Gibson J200, broke of its own accord. It exploded suddenly, with no apparent reason.

~ Francis Marmande 

Weighing in at more than 3 pounds, including a very esoteric 50-page hardcover booklet, the John McLaughlin: The Montreux Concerts box set is one magnificent mess. Hours upon hours of music provide ample evidence that McLaughlin’s guitar playing should be used to gauge the tensile strength of various string types and his compositions need to be analyzed for secret messages. Large and small scale experimentation, diversity and virtuosity rule this collection. Even the failed experiments are glorious. This set is a must hear for any John McLaughlin fan. Anyone interested in what the world’s greatest guitarist can do with his instrument should also check it out.
For John McLaughlin fans the past year has been excitingly dizzying and financially draining. First, based upon reviews that McLaughlin stole the show, they purchased the special Miles Davis 5-CD Box Set The Jack Johnson Sessions. Next, they paid top dollar to go see McLaughlin’s current band, Remember Shakti, as it toured extensively through North America and Europe. During that tour, they had no choice but to notice that John had appeared as a guest on bassist Miroslav Vitous’ latest release, Universal Syncopations. Ring up another purchase at import pricing! Then McLaughlin’s own album, Thieves and Poets, was released. That required even more cash. Finally, the 17-CD The Montreux Concerts was released. At more than $300 in some places, fans had to empty out their bank accounts even further. You add the past year up and it has cost McLaughlin fans a fortune. Of course, as any admirer of McLaughlin knows, they really had no choice...

The liner notes indicate that these Montreux Jazz Festival concerts from 1974 to 1999 cover the broad spectrum of McLaughlin’s musical development. The scary thing is that they actually only represent a piece of McLaughlin's legacy! Missing is all of his groundbreaking pre-Mahavishnu output. The original Mahavishnu Orchestra also appeared at the festival in 1972, but was not recorded. Also failing to show-up is the 1996 appearance of The Guitar Trio. The uncooperative Al DiMeola did not give permission for its inclusion. It is also very disappointing and hard to believe that two of McLaughlin’s most wonderful bands, the Belo Horizonte Band (sometimes known as The Translators) and the John McLaughlin Trio featuring Trilok Gurtu, never appeared at Montreux. Despite the noted absences, this set stands out for the historic document it is.

Claude Nobs, the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival impresario, had been recording the festival’s concerts for years. Only recently, has the world become aware of this as Claude released a similar set of Miles Davis’ appearances two years ago. Word is that he is now working on another set with Herbie Hancock.

Nobs and McLaughlin made a decision to not re-master or clean up the original source tapes. While this is called “brave” of McLaughlin in the liner notes, it was also probably cost effective. Because of this decision, some of the earlier concerts suffer from on-stage mishaps and some sound inadequacies and annoying clicks that either happened at the time of the recording or existed on damaged source tapes. The sound gets better as the concerts get newer, but audiophiles should be made aware of the sound issues. Those who have their hands on new digital technology will probably be cleaning up the affected discs anyway. In a way, the sound flaws of the early shows actually add a bit of a charm and context to the collection. Listening to McLaughlin wrestling with the feedback from his monster double-neck brings us to the time and place. For all intents and purposes, if this collection was not commercially released, we would look upon these never before heard discs as “once in a lifetime” audience recordings. For bootlegs, the sound is darn good.

The set begins with two discs featuring the second Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring McLaughlin on double-neck electric guitar, Jean Luc Ponty on violin, Michael Walden on drums, Ralph Armstrong on bass and Gayle Moran on keyboards. These players were augmented by a string and horn section. The scale of the bombast of this performance is absolutely gargantuan. The incongruous trumpet solos, from either Bobby Knapp or Steve Frankovich, over the ethereal electronics only add to the apocalyptical confusion. The music keeps reaching for the skies and even beyond. The Orchestra can’t always pull it back down to earth. When it does, it is the aural equivalent of seeing those old train wreck films they shot in slow motion. Despite its violence, it is quite beautiful.

The next two discs showcase the original Shakti band. Acoustic and far more Eastern than Mahavishnu, Shakti must have shocked the fans at Montreux. This was not one of Shakti’s better performances, however. These two discs also suffer from the worst sound in the collection. Yet, despite the occasional arid patches and sound problems, the electricity of the performance will stay with you for days. It is often true that a recording does not do justice to a performance. It can not contain such intangibles as atmosphere or anticipation. Such variables literally wash away minor flaws you may not hear at a live event. In listening to the crowd enthusiasm on these discs, we must assume that those variables were high and that the sound in the room was better than what we now hear in our ears.

Disc #5 from the very next year, 1977, unleashes a classic Shakti performance that surpasses even the previously unparalleled heights of the band’s first eponymous live release. The sound quality is very good and allows the full power of Zakir Hussain’s and T.H. Vinayakram’s percussion skills to come forward. L.Shankar’s violin playing seems to have made a quantum leap from the previous performance. His playing is loose and more interactive during call and response sections with McLaughlin’s amazing bended notes and alien chords. It is not easy to capture a band at its best at an annual event such as Montreux. But this is one recording that does it.

The One Truth Band takes up Disc #6. You will wish it took up Disc #7 as well. One Truth was a much more rhythmic electric band than The Mahavishnu Orchestra had been. Yet, it could catch melodic fire in a second’s notice. McLaughlin used his scalloped fret board guitar to bend the hell out of his notes. In unison with L. Shankar’s now-amplified violin, McLaughlin fused Eastern sounds with Latin rhythms. The charming and naïve spoken and shouted vocals gave this band its own brand of corniness. Back then maybe it wasn’t quite so corny. Now it is CORNY. Also of note is that this band was never recorded. Drummer Sonship (Reggie Theus) and Bassist T.M. Stevens (referred to on the CD as “Tom”) would not be with the band the next year when it released Electric Dreams. McLaughlin fans will love hearing them. Also of utmost importance is keyboardist Stu Goldberg. Goldberg was a favorite of McLaughlin during this time appearing with the last Mahavishnu, One Truth and on a short tour with Billy Cobham and Jack Bruce. Goldberg had the unfortunate opportunity to follow Jan Hammer in McLaughlin’s pantheon of keyboard players. He never really had a chance to win over Hammer’s old fans. His playing here, and on other records, should shed a new light on his contributions. He was, and is a very skilled player of the highest order and has been unfairly overlooked.

The next disc is a true find. Chick Corea and John McLaughlin perform in duet several McLaughlin and Corea compositions to an appreciative crowd. Rarely do you hear acoustic guitar and piano duets. In that context, the sheer number of choices of piano keys tends to overwhelm a guitarist. But, alas, John McLaughlin is playing guitar and that makes his instrument an equal partner. There are sound issues with this disc. (At least on the disc I listened to.) The first tune “La Baleine” is over modulated. Sad to say there is also a persistent click in the background throughout the whole concert. It sounds as if it is damage from the source tape. You will have to work hard to ignore it. But, it is small price to pay to be able to hear this concert at all.

Another incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra appeared in 1984 with a name shortened to Mahavishnu and appears on Discs #8 and 9. This was the band in which McLaughlin used his Synclavier guitar synthesizer. There are mixed feelings all the way around on this one. This band had to be seen live to fully enjoy. Why? That Synclavier took the edge off of John’s playing. Unless you were there to see him play it live and marvel at his control over the strings and the electronics, you couldn’t get full enjoyment from the performance. Such is the case from this concert. This band had very strong compositions that helped alleviate the synthesizer issue and is worth listening to for its skill and humor. At one point, Mahavishnu does a few choruses from the Stevie Wonder songbook. But, again, and I think McLaughlin knows this; the sharp drama of the music is missing without the cutting of his electric guitar swathes. He does pull out his axe several times, to the relief of his audience, making for the highlights. Keyboardist Mitchel Forman is a wonder.

Fans should rejoice that a live duet with Paco DeLucia fills discs# 10 and 11. To be frank, this performance more than covers for the Guitar Trio’s absence. McLaughlin and DeLucia are simpatico. Despite this, they seem to get off to a rough start handling Corea’s “Spain”. That is a rare occurrence, but again, every show can’t be perfect. Where would the drama come from? The two eventually find a sync and turn in a brilliant performance. Have two musicians ever complimented each other so well?

The next 3 CDs feature McLaughlin’s Free Spirits with Joey DeFrancesco on B-3 organ and Dennis Chambers on drums. Disc #12 is from 1993 and discs #13 and 14 are from 1995. Many McLaughlin fans had a problem with this band. McLaughlin’s guitar tone seemed to be too warm and processed. While the band produced aggressive and impressive convoluted music, the guitar sound would often be lost to the ears inside a whirlwind of B-3 pyrotechnics. I am very happy to report that these shows contain a guitar which is clearly heard to an advantage previously unavailable on the band’s recordings. I must also say that the mix is superior to the several times I caught the band in person. This is great news because it raises this band up a notch or two on the list. The Free Spirits’ performances are perhaps the surprise of this collection. There are two versions of McLaughlin’s “Mattinale” that will bring listeners inner peace. The Free Spirits are finally presented in a way we should have heard the first time.

Disc # 15 is filled with the music from The Heart of Things band. This is another of McLaughlin’s groups that is much better in a live context than in the studio. This night at Montreux doesn’t quite capture the all-out brilliance of the band’s CD Live in Paris, but it comes close. HOT was a dark band that reached into the recesses of the music to pull out omens of electric doom. There is not much of the McLaughlin trademark humor here. In spirit, this music comes much closer to the Mahavishnu Orchestra than any of McLaughlin’s other outings. The power of Dennis Chamber’s drums is combined with the low register high speed runs of Matt Garrison on bass to provide the basement. I have used this comparison before, but HOT sounds like a truck engine to me. There is a mechanical thrust to the music which makes you feel you are hauling ass down the highway in an eighteen wheeler. (And I mean that in a good way).

The penultimate disc features Remember Shakti, the rebirth of Shakti. It is evident that McLaughlin and Hussain, original members of Shakti, are better musicians than they were in Shakti. It is a strange phenomenon, really. Remember Shakti is a better band than Shakti. Yet, Shakti was more exciting. But so is everything the first time you hear it. Isn’t it? If you were to hear Remember Shakti first, you might even dismiss Shakti as being too rough. But that is the beauty of difference.

A bonus disc (#17) offers a duet with Paco which seems to have been culled from the concert that DiMeola wants released as a separate event. Also included is a McLaughlin guest appearance with Santana’s band back in 1993 that is quite loose and pleasing.

Years ago Keith Jarrett released the multi-vinyl Sun Bear Concerts to some great applause and much criticism. There was so much music on so many records that it was too expensive for many of his fans! In today’s world of the CD, it is almost expected that box sets will be released. They are getting larger and larger and, yes, more expensive. But more importantly, especially in the world of jazz and related music forms, these sets need to find their way out into the public. Otherwise, a great history is at risk. A box-set such as John McLaughlin: The Montreux Concerts offers us a document, complete with some flaws and much genius, that keeps the music alive. Those able to spend considerable time listening will be rewarded with so much more than just their money's worth. 

I admit, these 17 and often very long CDs are quite a mouthful to explore with due attention. Indeed, as an admirer of McLaughlin's works in general, I have been sitting on this Box-set for a very long time now, taking it in in small doses.

These Live recordings were made between 1974 to 1999 and to my best knowledge none of them were released before, either individually, or as a whole. It features McLaughlin's numerous collaborations during those years. Starting with the second incarnation of Mahavishnu (with Ponty), Shakti, Paco De Lucia, Chick Corea, Santana, et al, it's a kaleidoscope that showcases the artist's versatile talents.

A notable absence is the first Mahavishnu Orchestra. I am not sure if they didn't make it to Montreux, or perhaps the recording quality wasn't good enough to release? (Suffice to say, there are a great number of their performances in circulation. Some more legitimate than others and the recording quality varies between horrible and quite good.)

Well, this set of CDs are quite a handful and not for the faint hearted to fool around with. The compositions vary between long, very long and extremely long and require due respect and attention. Often rather different and,or extended versions of the original tunes. In turn, it's almost a new experience bordering on as if hearing them for the first time

Describing the works individually would be a gigantic task, something I won't even attempt here. Some performances are sensational, others represent historical milestones in the artist's career. Whilst not everything here pleases enormously, the package as a whole is excellent. It also pays to remember that this is only, but part of McLaughlin's massive output.

To compile this enormous material is to the credit of the record company as well as the Festival organizers. And that's before we even consider the efforts of composing, rehearsing and performing. mixing and mastering all this material. A big thank you for all involved!



  2. Absolutely awesome! Thank you so much for all the incredible music you post! John