Album review

John McLaughlin – ‘Liberation Time’

John McLaughlin – Liberation Time
(Abstract Logix ABLX065. Album review by Denny Ilett)

John McLaughlin’s decision to retire from touring in 2017 was greeted with shock and sadness by his legions of fans. In an interview he stated “God bless my mother; I inherited music from her but I also inherited arthritis!” After over 50 years of leaving guitarists’ jaws permanently glued to the floor it was heartbreaking news, albeit understandable. John’s parting words were “musicians never die, they just decompose. So, I’m on my way.”

Many thought that two ‘live’ albums, from London and San Francisco, released in 2017 and 2018, would also mark the end of his recording career. What joy, then, that here we are, in 2021, with an album of new music from this living legend under the title Liberation Time.

Recorded during the autumn lockdown of 2020, Liberation Time is a unusual event in McLaughlin’s illustrious career. First, it utilises a variety of musicians in different combinations; a situation aided by the fact that physical proximity was neither possible or a prerequisite. Second, with musicians placed at various points across the globe, the guitarist had the time and space to plan each piece in a new way; imagining each collaborator’s contribution as opposed to ‘feeling it out’ together in the studio.

Many musicians have recorded this way during the pandemic but it would be a long search to look for any that have managed to generate such a sense of spontaneity, vibrancy and group interplay as these seven tracks do. It is, in fact, quite extraordinary to listen to this music knowing that each individual’s contribution was a solitary effort!

As for McLaughlin’s legendary ‘chops’ fans will not be disappointed! Those seemingly endless lines – sounding as if they were plucked, fully formed, out of the air and covering the entire fretboard – are here in abundance. John is clearly inspired and plays magnificently, as always, throughout the record. We are also treated to two short piano pieces described by McLaughlin as “musical poems”. As part of the whole programme they offer balance; a moment of solace and reflection in contrast to the band pieces which spit and crackle with the sort of agitated beauty that John has been laying down on record for decades. The fact that McLaughlin has rarely recorded his piano playing afford them extra poignancy.

John describes Liberation Time as his “direct response” to the mandated restrictions of Covid-19. Harnessing his frustrations and channeling his energy towards creativity caused, in his words, “an explosion of music in my mind.” And, what an explosion this album is! It offers darkness and light, despair and hope. It’s angry at times but ultimately consoling. Its overall beauty coming from a bubbling cocktail of every human emotion expressed, musically, all at once.

All these years after such groundbreaking contributions to Miles’ In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, the extraordinary Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti, along with countless other projects as leader or collaborator, McLaughlin proves, with Liberation Time, what a profoundly important, vibrant and creative artist he undoubtedly is, always was and always will be!

John McLaughlin – guitar, guitar synth, piano, Roger Rissignol – piano, Ranjit Barot – drums, konokol, Jean-Michel ‘Kiki’ Aublette – drums, bass, Vinnie Colaiuta – drums, Nicolas Viccaro – drums, Julian Siegel – tenor saxophone, Étienne M’bappé – bass, Gary Husband – drums, piano, Sam Burgess – bass, Jérôme Regard – bass, Oz Ezzeldin – piano

Liberation Time is released on 16 July 2021.

LINK: Liberation Time at Abstract Logix

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