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April 12, 2010 2:30 AM   Subscribe

John McLaughlin plays "Cherokee" backed up by the Carson-era Tonight Show Band (SLYT guitar porn)

A master of many styles, McLaughlin is known for early work in psychedelic rock ("Dragon Song," 1970), experimental jazz with Tony Williams' "Lifetime" (jam, 1969), as band-leader for the Mahavishnu Orchestra (jam, 1974), as a collaborator with Miles Davis ("Right Off," 1971), jazz-rock with Carlos Santana ("A Love Supreme," 1972), an Indian/Western fusion artist with the group Shakti ("Finding the Way," 1999), and for his work in more traditional Spanish guitar music ("Meditarena Sundance" with Paco de Lucia and Al di Meola, ca. ?), although I'm probably missing something.

But big-band standards? No problem.

And I know, my favorite guitarist sucks.
posted by bardic (32 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
that Carson-era clip is corny.
posted by the cuban at 2:45 AM on April 12, 2010


This guy was one of the red threads through my musical growth. Thanks for posting!
posted by Wolof at 2:47 AM on April 12, 2010


Interesting you should say that, the cuban. A couple of years ago Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber had some typically sharp commentary about that Carson performance and its "bebopsnob" detractors on Youtube. The post generated quite a long discussion about the nature of swing and of music criticism, etc.

I only remember because while the discussion there went largely over my head, I did end up losing an evening to Youtubing my way through McLaughlin's career. Now bardic's gone and done it again.
posted by col_pogo at 3:03 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, a rather different John McLaughlin from the one I know. It's rather funny imagining that John McLaughlin as a master guitarist.
posted by kmz at 3:03 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks. There are many gems among his opera, but I think that the best thing he had recently done is an instructional DVD about the Indian rhythmic system, Konokol : Gateway to rhythm.
posted by nicolin at 3:06 AM on April 12, 2010


These clips exemplify my difficulty with Jazz. I listen and think, "Wow, this guy is a virtuoso. I like it. But why do I have to expend so much effort to enjoy it?" I don't have the energy to enjoy this for more than a few seconds. I try, I really do.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:09 AM on April 12, 2010


This version of Guardian Angel with Paco de Lucia and Larry Coryell took the top of my head off when I was fifteen or so and saw it on TV. Yes, very fast and noodly, but totally exhilarating, as McGlaughlin is at his best (the Shakti albums I find completely life-affirming), though it was de Lucia who stole the show for me.

Although I prefer it when he works acoustic, that Carson appearance seems weak to me - the nylon-string doesn't really carry the chord harmonies of Cherokee, and he's completely drowned out by the brass. I was slightly disappointed by it, I must confess.
posted by Grangousier at 4:23 AM on April 12, 2010


Link to his site is probably a good fit here too.
posted by Wolof at 4:52 AM on April 12, 2010


These clips exemplify my difficulty with Jazz. I listen and think, "Wow, this guy is a virtuoso. I like it. But why do I have to expend so much effort to enjoy it?" I don't have the energy to enjoy this for more than a few seconds. I try, I really do.

I'm a huge jazz fan, with a few hundred albums from the 50s-70s in my collection, and I still run up against music from the genre that "I don't have the energy to enjoy*."

It's alright. There's a lot of jazz that pairs virtuosity and complexity, experiments with rhythm and the deconstruction of melody, and takes a great deal of effort to digest.

On the other hand, there's plenty of jazz that finds context from other forms of music, making it more approachable and (hopefully) listenable, without really feeling the need to force you to be impressed with endless runs of sixteenth-notes.

How about "Right Off," linked in the post? That's Jimi+SlyStone+StevieWonder, and isn't much more complicated than that.

-or-

Charles Mingus - "Better Git Hit In Yo Soul", with the familiar call-and-response structure of gospel (Mingus does this bringing-context-from-other-forms thing from a compositional standpoint better than just about anyone)

-and maybe-

Miles Davis - "Frelon Brun," which lays a fat funk bass line down under some electric piano and lets the drummer stretch and twist the rhythm as he pleases (he's ALL OVER the kit in this one - probably my favorite jazz drumming.)

-and then there's always just enjoying a great ballad for sake of being a great ballad-

Miles Davis - "It Never Entered My Mind," which is almost unbearably lovely.

Not everything in the genre is a homework assignment. If you're really curious find a thing or two you love, buy the album, buy the artist's albums before and after that one, buy the ones from his sidemen from the same time period, and go from there.

*For the record, let's start with Andrew Hill, Ornette Coleman, and Anthony Braxton, and we'll go from there.
posted by GamblingBlues at 4:54 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not quite eight in the morning here, and this is the first thing I clicked on. What a great way to wake-up. I grew-up throughout the Carson era and that band was one of my many gateways into jazz. Great clip.

charlie don't surf...I understand completely your difficulty. This clip does feature one particular branch of jazz where fast-and-furious soloing holds sway. It can definitely be hard to break-through with this sort of sound because most people try to keep up with each and every note. Rather, I suggest you approach such soloing as a rollercoaster ride and just hang-on through the dips and turns, and not worry about catching every click of the track. Ride the flow. Eventually, you will acclimate and one day you will suddenly realize you ARE hearing the notes and listening to the conversation the musician is having with you.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:03 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I first saw him on the old In Concert show in the 70s and these pieces, Resolution and Hope inspired me to buy his Birds of Fire album. I was disappointed when it didn't have the same spark.

Generally though, I found his speed to be showy, pointless and off-putting. Not that I know anything about jazz or guitar work.
posted by DarkForest at 5:16 AM on April 12, 2010


Richie Cole once told me (and a number of others) that in order to really make it in jazz, you had to be able to wail on "Cherokee" and "Giant Steps."

I think Mr. McLaughlin made it.
posted by Kimothy at 5:24 AM on April 12, 2010


Belo
posted by timsteil at 5:30 AM on April 12, 2010


*For the record, let's start with Andrew Hill, Ornette Coleman, and Anthony Braxton, and we'll go from there.

Oh, I totally love Ornette Coleman's Skies of America.

posted by DarkForest at 5:32 AM on April 12, 2010


You realize, of course, McLaughlin was getting paid by the note. He bought a house in Malibu with the money he made on Carson that night.

I tell you something, though, was that horn arrangement a travesty, or what? Good god, the very definition of bombastic and heavy-handed.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:43 AM on April 12, 2010


was that horn arrangement a travesty, or what

The arranger and horn players were also paid by the note.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:00 AM on April 12, 2010


Ed, that was wild stuff!
posted by chillmost at 6:11 AM on April 12, 2010


Issue ONE!

I was expecting a totally different video.
posted by yeti at 6:28 AM on April 12, 2010


Generally though, I found his speed to be showy, pointless and off-putting.

it's only fair to point out that "cherokee" has become THE show-off tune in the jazz tradition - he did alright with it, but it didn't really seem like he did a lot with it - i was kind of surprised at his restraint - and i think the choice of acoustic guitar against a big band didn't quite work - his tone seemed a little plain on that guitar and he seemed to be pretty much doing a lot of it by rote without coming up with something that was rhythmically or harmonically unexpected

he didn't overplay it, though

i suppose someone's got to link to charlie parker's koko (live) - and studio
posted by pyramid termite at 6:34 AM on April 12, 2010


To my ears, McLaughlin has only become more and more uninteresting over the years. And this is coming from someone who loves John McLaughlin. My favorite stuff (besides his playing on In A Silent Way and Jack Johnson, holy shit) is on his first/solo album, Extrapolation, made before he was "discovered" and summoned to come to the US by Miles Davis. His playing is restrained and soulful, his tone is scrappy and has tons of character, and his band is perfect (especially John Surman on sax). Check out Arjen's Bag from that album. And then go purchase the box sets of the two Miles albums mentioned above.
posted by lukievan at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Check out Arjen's Bag from that album.

ah - just realized that tune gets cut off - here's another try - this time segueing into Pete the Poet.
posted by lukievan at 7:46 AM on April 12, 2010


Thanks. Always nice to hear "Cherokee". One of my favourite renditions is by Tete Montoliu (piano). What he pulls off is both playful and respectful, and as for speed, the last couple of minutes are like being shot through a wormhole. (No YouTube, sorry. It's on one of his The Music I Like to Play albums from the late Eighties.)
posted by The Mouthchew at 7:53 AM on April 12, 2010


lukievan: Thanks for the "Extrapolation" mention! I didn't know that album at all, and the samples from it on Amazon are pretty cool.

I agree with you a lot on McLaughlin. The guy is an amazing player and can sound great in the right context, but he does play a lot of bland stuff. I love his early work as an ensemble player, and the Mahavishnu orchestra stuff is classic, but I've always found Shakti to be boring world-fusiony-new age stuff. But then again, I like highly technical, virtuosic playing in general.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:40 AM on April 12, 2010


Strange as it might seem, I just found out in email this morning that I'm a guitarist in a big band. Then I hit this metafilter post. Coincidence? I think not.

John McLaughlin's speed, and a lot of his signature sound, comes from the fact that he plays twos: two notes per string before shifting to another string, almost without fail. He promotes the concept, which hardly any other guitarists use. Other signature right hand techniques might include sweep picking, threes, fours... McLaughlin always sounds (feels?) pentatonic to me because of this, even though he largely plays scales.

Regarding the Richie Cole comment; yeah, someone is always going to call Cherokee, Giant Steps, or Donna Lee. It's traditionally called head-cutting. Don't be that guy. Take the solo just *before* that guy and leave him with nowhere to go. If you can. Not that I condone that kind of behavior.
posted by lothar at 9:01 AM on April 12, 2010


Yeah to everyone whining about how fast he plays, or that Jazz is too "difficult to understand" or whatever, realize that Cherokee is usually a show-off kind of number. Wynton usually blows his brains out when he plays the tune, doing all kind of circular breathing so that his lick almost never stop for the entire number (not that I like Wynton or anything, just saying)... And John M. is obviously in BIG SHOW MODE for this appearance. The arrangement in the band is the same way (over the top bombastic knock 'em sock 'em), and you can clearly see that John is having a great time appearing in a somewhat strange setting for his kind of music-making. I think this clip is great and he plays his balls off. If you don't get it, then study some music theory and then study jazz history or something, I don't know. Back back back in the days of Art Tatum and the like, there would be jazz piano parties in Harlem where the best of the best would get together and show off for each other, trying to play faster, crazier solos than everyone else. So it's nothing new to come out and just try to wow everyone.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2010


Well thanks for the comments, pro and con, although "whining" seems a bit unkind. I think part of the problem is that I am a guitarist and I do understand it and I can follow the performance, up to my limit. Obviously McLaughlin is way over my limit. Sure we need to challenge our musical limits but I think I'd prefer to challenge it some other way, although I'm not sure why. I don't have any predisposition against jazz.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2010


In the Carson clip, his guitar is slightly out of tune. Pitch is just a tiny bit too low.
posted by sour cream at 10:45 AM on April 12, 2010


If you don't get it, then study some music theory and then study jazz history or something, I don't know.

Yes, maybe if I go study some music theory and jazz history and quantum mechanics I'll suddenly be impressed by simple patterns being played in completely straight rhythm at 900 miles an hour. This sounds like it's being played by a Jazz Robot.

(John McLaughlin's work with Miles and Mahavishnu is great, though.)
posted by IjonTichy at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2010


If JMc had played this electric it would have worked much, much better. The acoustic just isn't cutting it against that (rather heavy-handed) brass section, and when he goes into his sub-Coltrane scalar stuff the guitar isn't resonating enough to carry it. The result is a sound that resembles a demented duck on amphetamines. I'm an admirer of JMc - many guitarists are - rather than a fan. His music is easy to be awed by, but perhaps rather difficult to love. A personal view, naturally, and not intended to be provocative. Perhaps because his technique seems so armour-plated there's not a lot of vulnerability on show, no tenderness. Although he is capable of that sometimes. I agree with whoever cited his work with Shakti as being wonderful. It is indeed sublime. Particularly the Natural Elements album (although it's the violin-playing I like more than the guitar). One thing I've often thought with JMc is that all that speed is an attempt to hide a fundamental flaw in his technique - he has a truly ghastly vibrato! Now....that probably is provocative....
posted by MajorDundee at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2010


Oh, and I want to thank nicolin very, very much for the instructional DVD recommendation. I just ordered it from Amazon and am very much looking forward to getting funky with John.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:24 PM on April 12, 2010


...inspired me to buy his Birds of Fire album. I was disappointed when it didn't have the same spark.

Concede that not all of the album is driving music. But the title track held its ground against an onslaught of late-70's punk on my turntable.
posted by ovvl at 4:25 PM on April 12, 2010


I've seen McLaughlin play live a number of times in various venues and musical configurations over the years, most recently last year with Chick Corea. McLaughlin is remarkably consistent in that he's usually rushing and always playing a little ahead of his fellow musicians. I find it really annoying but his all-male fan base doesn't seem to care or even notice.
posted by grounded at 9:01 AM on April 13, 2010


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