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Personnel: McLaughlin -- guitar,
John Surman -- baritone and soprano sax, Tony Oxley -- drums,
Brian Odges -- double bass
All compositions by John McLaughlin
My heartfelt thanks to John Surman,
Brian Odges and Tony Oxley for what they gave to this creation.
If you would like to send in your
comments or to contribute your material to these pages, please send your
mail to: Alex Bunard. I
will try and post your contribution within seven days from the time I receive
One of the finest recordings in the jazz
history. Completely sums up the styles and idioms of the British jazz,
rhythm and blues, and avant-garde and free jazz exercises throughout the
sixties. At the same time, points to the directions for future developments.
The music on this album conveys an overall
impression of an extremely rare feeling of bitter-sweet (or, in McLaughlin's
own words "sad-joy") state of being. The performances are equally odd --
one is left with a feeling that the musicians are simultaneously chiseling
a sculpture in stone and painting a delicate watercolor pictures and portraits.
Such robust and at the same time extremely fragile handling of musical
material has carried on throughout McLaughlin's career, giving a unique
stamp of originality to almost all of his creations. However, nowhere has
it been more clearly pronounced than on his first album.
1. Extrapolation (2:57)
Past and present
incidences focused into the future
A perfect example of the quirky, modal,
post-free British jazz. The band bursts into the few opening bars as if
chopping large logs of wood, with the unbelievably tight cymbals work by
Tony Oxley. Right away, one is made aware that the stage is set
for something highly unusual and unexpected. The rough, chunky double bass
strokes create intensely heavy backdrop for McLaughlin's weird noodling
and strange sounding short bursts of clusters coming from his amplified
Hummingbird acoustic guitar.
When the baritone sax and the guitar kick
in with a very bright, crooked, edgy melody, it's like the rays of sun
suddenly bursting through an opening in the dark cloudy sky. I can still
recall how my ears perked the first time I've heard this piece. Immediately,
I became aware that this is a highly unusual and an extremely attractive
design pattern that has the power to forever influence my way of perceiving
I'll leave the rest of the discovery to
the listener. Let me just repeat that you're in for a treat, especially
with regards to the unbelievably inventive guitar playing.
2. It's Funny (4:25)
Written with the
unheard lyrics by the incomparable Dussy Downer, reflecting its opposite
When the turmoil of the opening piece
("Extrapolation") subsides, the slow, elegiac song begins to unfold. McLaughlin
introduces a simple, heartfelt melody with the characteristic wide interval
leaps. Surman joins in, this time on soprano sax. He starts weaving
a poignant melody with ever increasing dramatic twists and turns. The extremely
pronounced sharp contrast between the minor tonality and the major tonality
which soaks up the whole piece underlines the "sadjoy" content of it. The
tempo picks up, only to be dropped back to a staggering pace. Suddenly,
the wailing of the soprano stops, and the guitar enters with a decisive
rumble. The masterful patchwork of single lines interspersed with tasteful
chordal licks is a joy to listen to. Again, the guitarwork makes the rhythm
section pick up the tempo, which makes the guitar play with even more bite.
When the guitar starts to sound angrier and angrier with each new note
(making the bass join in with all its might), the band slows down to a
flutter (ah, the amazing drumming by Oxley), and the head melody
is replayed, with even more somber feeling.
3. Arjen's Bag (4:25)
Dedicated to one
of Holland's greatest musicians and bass players and his bag, which is
always where you least expect it. In 11:8 time
This piece introduces one of the staple
ingredients of McLaughlin's music. Throughout his prolific career, he will
carry this musical pattern with him and will embellish it with many unexpected
elaborations. It starts with a typical McLaughlinesque lick: Em11 - F#m11.
The main melody is also very typical, and as is almost always the case
with McLaughlin, consists of wide intervallic leaps.
4. Pete The Poet (5:00)
The piece starts on a somber, solemn note.
The solo guitar introduces the entire cycle of changes that will be played
out so masterfully by the band. Once the guitar finishes its introduction,
the band jumps in with such gusto, that it makes your jaw drop in disbelief.
But the most amazing ingredient of this pinnacle of collective improvisation
is the way they handle space (meaning, silence). Notice how masterfully
they make you feel those cubic meters of empty air that they are pushing
toward you with each of their breathing out! All four instruments breathe
a single breath, and you can physically feel it while you're sitting in
your armchair. First they suck you in with their deep breathing in, and
then they send you out floating when they barely audibly breathe out. The
baritone sax plays inspired intricate lines around these edges, while the
guitar simply stays close to the bass, playing huge spaces.
This is the best ever minimalistic approach
to making music (at least to my ears). It's simple to the point of being
single-minded, and yet it makes you float in the air. The highly charged
musical fiber is almost palpable, and the lyricism of McLaughlin's playing
has never been more poignant, before or after this recording.
Written for Pete
Brown, the amazing poet from London
As soon as the floating of the "Arjen's
Bag" is finished, they change gears abruptly and allow the whole concept
of space and time to briefly dissipate into what appears to be a quasi-chaotic
disarray of atonal noise making. It does not last for long, though; a few
seconds later, the band is back on the tracks, cooking a hard-boiled version
of the post-bop stream-of-consciousness groove. All of a sudden, McLaughlin
introduces a quirky, elaborate melody, which makes everyone stop right
in the midst of their groove, and to respond with resounding pulsation.
The melody gets to be repeated and elaborated upon, and then the band slows
down again, opening up for a nice, free form collective improv.
5. This Is For Us To Share (3:30)
This rather loose and jelly-like group
improvisation is really nothing short of amazing. It is impossible for
anyone who has some experience with playing jazz, to believe that this
segment could have been composed or "rehearsed". It's quite clear that
they are making this up, pulling it in out of thin air, playing along as
they go. And yet, the resulting music is astonishing. Although the band
is, at this point, barely hanging together (because they are leaving the
tonality in any shape or form, and are also violating any rules of proper
meter), the music pulsates, it breathes a life of its own. One feels as
if one can almost touch it.
Again, the instruments get angrier and
angrier, the guitar is starting to bark and growl, and so is the baritone.
The bass has dropped off onto a totaly unrelated tangent, where it escalates
its thrashing, and the drums are following their own predefined path that
no one else seems to be able to hang on to.
Finally, everything dissipates and evaporates,
and we are left face to face with the drum kit; Tony Oxley delivers
such a phenomenal drum solo that it defies my powers of musical analysis.
Eventually, the band tentatively joins
in, rehashing the head melody, this time with more restraint. The drum
roll fades out...
Dedicated to my
This romantic piece, soaked in the heart-rending
ambiguous harmonic cloud, opens with a lovely, lyrical, closely miked solo
acoustic guitar (nylon string). The arpeggiated lush chords cascade up
and down, deeply touching our heart strings. After the resolute final chord
has been nailed down, the amplified guitar enters repeating the last chord,
and the baritone immediatelly joins in, stating the main melody.
6. Spectrum (2:45)
The bass and the drums pick up the arpeggiated
pattern. The sonic landscape is brash. Everything is floating, hanging
in suspension. The baritone bubbles up, only to abruptly drop down to those
gorgeous deep, sonorous depths of scratchy sound. McLaughlin executes spine
tingling machine gun patterns, utilizing his guitar to the max. The whole
ensemble breathes like a single organism, it heaves and rises up, helpless
and defenceless under the powers of such potent fermentation.
Yes, this is a song of love. Real love,
deep, fulfilling, a hundred percent commitment that runs down to the deepest
ocean floors, simple and straightforward as life itself. It is sombre,
loaded with pathos, but it is joyous as well.
The song ends on a very high, blissful
note, executed on the baritone, obviously way beyond its intended tonal
range. The listeners collapse into their chairs, completelly devastated.
In praise of light
This is the most straight-ahead piece
on the whole album. Also, it has the most up-tempo pace. The band enters
as if on a secret, inaudible countdown; the melody is extremelly complicated
and arabesque-like, played by the guitar and the baritone. It stretches
past any reasonable horzon of expectation, and carries on even when everyone
would expect it to subside. Finally, when it has completelly unfolded,
the bartone picks up the improv, whips the tempo up a notch or two, and
7. Binky's Beam (7:05)
Next comes the guitar; McLaughlin picks
up where Surman left off, playing some amazingly angular lines.
Before you know it, he's switched the gears, and has prompted the drummer
to crank it up, and to show his teeth. What a stunning interplay!
The piece ends with rehashing the initial
melody, this time with a bit more restraint. After the last phrase is finished,
the band slows down, starting to sound more and more tentative. And then...
This dedicated to
Binky McKenzie, one of the greatest bass players, unjustly jailed with
his brother Bunny
A dissonant, wide leap, a pure cry coming
from the guitar opens this marvelous masterpiece. The intro consists of
masterfuly executed arpeggios that fall along the timeless blues progression
(E/A/B). Supported by a sparsely executed, bottomless and spacious tones
coming from the bass, McLaughlin starts his intoxicating brew. His absolutelly
delicate and at the same time raucous rendition clearly belongs to the
highest achievements in the art of blues guitar playing.
The bouncy, brave melody begins. The baritone
starts from what seems to be the lowest possible B note, in unison with
the guitar. They play the first part of the melody over the E major to
A major to B major arpeggio, executed on the bass, with an intriguing stop-go
drumming pattern that's pulling this big, heavy train. This is played two
times. Then, the melody gets transposed by four degrees up, (starting on
E), while the underlying progression goes from A major to D major to E
major. This is played only once, and then the melody falls back to the
E major pattern (starting from B again). Finaly, the underlying rhythmic
pattern stops, and and the band engages in a semi grotesque waltz-like
huge melody that goes from low C# all the way up to the two-and-half octaves
higher tritone G. Then, it gently falls down to the two octaves lower E.
Whew! Just thinking about this exercise makes me feel dizzy...
Now the machinery starts its cycles. The
bass and the drums realy cook it up. You can plainly see the steam risng
up as the movable parts get their shakeout. Oxley's cymbales are
employed to the fullest, while Odges' bass grumbles and mumbles
like a sleepy, grumpy black bear. On top of that, McLaughlin is riding
this magic train with an uncanny insight.
Just listen to his zen-like handling of
the guitar. With minimal efforts, with what appears to be just a gentle
carresing of the strings, he makes his guitar speak. Pay close attention
to many of the "phantom" sounds -- those are the accompanying "accidentals"
that bring his improvisation lines to life. A scratch here, a harmonic
there, an unexpected cluster over there... He masterfully employs the open
strings, the background noise. But at the same time, his guitar sings.
It sings beautfully. It is a song of freedom, of the human longings to
be free, to bask in the sun. The heavy burden of imprisonment pulls his
spirit down, and at the very end of his soaring, McLaughlin makes the crash
landing by hitting the low E string with all his might.
Enter the baritone. The grumbling, desperate
lament. But very soon, it starts to soar too. In the background, McLaughlin
is cooking a shimmering, dark brew. He propells Surman to try and reach
the ever higher vistas. Higher and higher, the baritone bursts out into
the stratosphere. The piercing lament can be now heard throughout the entire
Universe. Exhausted, he collapses to the ground, but the band forces him
to pick himself up and to start dancing the defiant dance, repeating the
underlying E major/A major/B major arpeggio in unison with the bass. Freedom
at last! He has rediscovered the fundamental truth of his life.
8. Really You Know (4:25)
The band signs off in a solemn vein. The
introductory melody is repeated, this time with much more composure. They
calm down, and create an opening for the next piece.
Speaks for itself
The only "jazz ballad" on this album,
this meditative piece explores the depths of silence and loneliness. It
starts with elaborate chordal work by McLaughlin, with a thoughtful underpinning
by Odges. The drums pick up the slowly pulsating rhythmic pattern,
and then the baritone introduces the convoluted, poignantly played melody.
It is hard to say where does the melody end and the improvisation begin,
because the two segments are in an amazingly similar vein.
The baritone disappears as inobtrusivelly
as it entered, while McLaughlin kicks in by totally changing the tempo
and the harmonic climate. His "chunky" playing forces Oxley and
Odges to step in and to crank it up. McLaughlin's guitar work is
again a thing to marvel at: how masterfully he combines his melodic tangents
with his esoteric chordal solo! Alas, shortly afterwards he withdraws from
the limelight, and the band repeats the introductory melody, letting everything
dissolve into the pregnant silence.
9. Two for Two (3:35)
Excursion into freedom
The last exposition of their collective
improvisational genius is also the most frantic, unabashedly shameless
free jazz partying. It starts with Oxley's razor sharp cymbales
leading into the mind-boggling unison melody (guitar and bariton). They
thrash it around for a while, and then the lights go low, with only the
center stage remaining lit for McLaughlin himself. Now he unleashes his
guitar like he's never done in his life. The solo guitar bashing is at
the highest imaginable level of trash/speed/death/metal idiom (even if
it's decades before such terms were coined). The virtuosity of his playing
seems to defy our imagination. His rhythmic and chordal work simply sounds
impossible, and I wasn't able to determine if he had overdubbed himself,
or is everything played in there live.
10. Peace Piece (1:50)
When the chordal solo is over, the band
returns for a grand finale. And what a finale it is! Completely atonal,
thrashing left, right and center, it's smoking, the feathers are flying.
When the dust settles, we are gently led into the concluding number.
Dedicated to peace
A very simple, modal etude for solo acoustic
guitar. Some Oriental overtones, but not much. This is a short, intimate
message to the like-minded people. Be peaceful, calm your mind, see what
In conclusion, I'd like to strongly suggest
to anyone who hasn't heard this album to try and get their hands on it.
It is widely available now under the "Nice Price" category. Believe me,
it's worth every penny!
All original material in these
webpages copyright © Alex Bunard.