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Latest release proves McLaughlin’s poetry

Chris Kepner | Tuesday, April 20, 2004

It is terribly frustrating to watch the music world continue in its obsession with classification. Genres, sub-genres, sub-sub-genres, periods, styles…we can’t seem to be at peace until we’ve given everything a name. What is “jazz,” “classical,” “rock,” “rap,” anyway? And when musicians cross the lines that we draw, we just make up new names. Fusion. Acid-jazz. Hip-Hop. Drum & Bass. House. Trance. Why do we bother with this? Isn’t music supposed to be about feeling? About the communication of emotions? The best musicians are those that ignore all of the buzzwords out there and simply create.Guitarist John McLaughlin has been around for quite a while and has long been a proponent of imagination and innovation in music. He grew up in England in a highly intellectual and musical family. When he was in his twenties he was invited to New York to play with Tony Williams and Miles Davis, and thus began a long career of playing with some of the best musicians in the world. His large body of work is extremely varied and impressive. One credit that deserves special note is that McLaughlin performed on Miles’ landmark “Bitches Brew” recording, and a song on that recording was actually named after him.In addition to a typical list of musical influences that includes Davis, John Coltrane, Bach, Mozart, Ravel and others, McLaughlin was inspired heavily by Indian music. His first group as a leader was called the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which gets its name from McLaughlin’s given Hindu name. Needless to say, Indian philosophy and culture have generally had a great impact upon him. He has spent a great deal of time living there and studying with various spiritual and intellectual leaders. McLaughlin’s influences are his explanation of the title for this album, as he states in the liner notes: “I realized that throughout my life, I ‘borrow’ from everyone who inspires me in some way, and not just musical: to the point that I wonder what an ‘original’ thought truly is.””Thieves and Poets” includes a three-movement work of the same name for guitar and orchestra, as well as four jazz standards arranged for 5 guitars and a bass. The piece for guitar and orchestra traces McLaughlin’s musical journey from the “Old World,” meaning English and traditional style concurrently, to the “New World,” or the United States and modern styles of composition and improvisation. The standards are “My Romance,” “Stella by Starlight,” “My Foolish Heart” and “The Dolphin.” These four interpretations are dedicated to four pianists: Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, respectively.All of the music on this recording gets a perfect score for both technical proficiency and level of enjoyment. By now you’ve probably sensed the pattern in these “jazz” reviews. The albums chosen have been of the sort that can be appreciated by both serious and casual audiences. “Thieves and Poets” is no exception. Write about it for your music theory class or put it on while you’re studying for your accounting final. Either way, you’ll have a great experience with John McLaughlin’s latest album.