Album review: JOHN McLAUGHLIN – Liberation Blues

John McLaughlin - Liberation Blues

Abstract Logix [Release date 16.07.21]

It was John McLaughlin who on being asked about his “loud” playing in the Mahavishnu Orchestra pricelessly responded: “Who said spiritual music should be quiet?”

On the evidence of ‘Liberation Time’ he’s turned down, but hasn’t lost one iota of his speed or intensity as he explores every last iota of post lock-down creativity with a resonant tone.

They say ‘what goes round, comes round’, and though many have blanched at McLaughlin’s spiritual quest down the years, the recent extended lockdown has brought many a doubter closer to McLaughlin’s own beliefs.

In musical terms McLaughlin has used the time to draw on all his creative resources and contacts to create an album whose subtext is the celebration of post lockdown freedom and unfettered spontaneity, albeit with plenty of pre-prep.

Everything on this album bristles with vitality, technique and is fuelled as by the notion of casting off our collective restrictions.

Given the album was recorded remotely and populated by different players on different tracks, ‘Liberation Time’ feels remarkably concise, coherent and inspired.

And while there’s nothing stylistically new here, aside from 2 short McLaughlin piano pieces. His last piano playing was heard on 1973’s ‘Love, Devotion, Surrender’s ‘Meditation’.

It’s his response to changing times that fuels this album with incredible energy, a steely focus and magnificent spontaneous interplay that makes light of the players’ Monaco, Paris, London, Cairo and Los Angeles recording locations.

Listen for example to McLaughlin fiery lines on the opening ‘Spirit Sings’ as he tears his way though Vinny Colaiuta (drums) and bassist Sam Burgess’s rhythmic tension.

He’s equally inspired on the 7 minute plus, of the aptly titled ‘Lockdown Blues’, as his telepathic playing with his current 4th Dimension band members appears to capture a moment when isolated musical spirits coalesce.

And it’s the magical way in which McLaughlin presides over 5 tracks with different line-ups and his brace of piano interludes that makes this post lockdown project special.

McLaughlin’s fire is matched by Etienne Mbappe’s slapped bass work and Gary Husband’s staccato moog sounding electric piano, which delivered with the kind on intensity that he later revisits with McLaughlin on the closing title track.

Everything is shaped by drummer Ranjit Barot’s expansive phrasing, which incorporates hand-claps and machine gun vocal rhythms as part of a brief drum solo. Hey, after 12 months of lockdown you can forgive him the manic voice and drum interplay.

Mila Repa (presumably a reference to the Tibetan master yogi) is the first of 2 solo McLaughlin reflective piano pieces. It’s full of meaningful notes with plenty of space and acts as conduit to a bigger picture.

McLaughlin’s broad canvas is ignited by the humorously titled ‘Right Here, Right Now, Right On’. It’s a track that leaps out the speakers as the glorious sum of its small combo parts, featuring Oz Ezzeldin on piano, and a Julien Siegel on tenor sax who fully explores the contours of his horn over a jumping rhythm section.

Everything builds to a breathtakingly relentless McLaughlin solo, which showcases his undiminished powers and his cerebral and spiritual need to express himself in a post-covid environment.

He’s equally good alongside Husband and Burgess on the power trio title track, until an unexpected startling duet between McLaughlin and Husband on drums, provides the album with a spine tingling finish.

The best moments of ‘Liberation Time’ transcends musical genres, space and time to infuse it with the kind of “can do” spirit that only a musical visionary like John McLaughlin and his top draw guests can realize. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 September 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week.

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Featured Albums w/c 18 October 2021 (Mon-Fri)

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Power Plays w/c 18 October 2021 (Mon-Fri)

ABOVE SNAKES Nothing To Lose (indie)
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