Produced by John McLaughlin
This album used to be held in the highest esteem among McLaughlin fans throughout the seventies. It climbed to the status of a cult recording because, among other reasons, there wasn't at that time anything similar to what today we may term world music. In a recent interview, Joe Zawinul had declared that he had invented world music, as well as the hip-hop beat. While we may give him the benefit of a doubt when it comes to hip-hop (with references to his early seventies Weather Report album "Sweetnighter"), he is seriously contended by this album when it comes to who had instigated the world music movement.
Not only did this album foreshadow the onslaught of the general public interest in ethnic and world music later in the eighties and the nineties, it was also instrumental in bringing the acoustic guitar to the forefront of the music scene in much of the seventies, as well as early eighties. This album opened the doors for numerous guitar duos and trios (the most famous being, of course, the McLaughlin-DiMeola-De Lucia trio).
But the most important reason for the immense popularity of this recording is the indescribable musical magic that shines through each and every one of its ten tracks. Because of that, this album ranks among the best recordings of the entire seventies, and in McLaughlin's catalogue, it certainly stands as tall as The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds Of Fire, A Handful Of Beauty, Extrapolation, etc.
Musically, this album represents a concept that is extremely hard to categorize. The first two tracks ("Peace One" and "Peace Two"), totaling over 19 minutes, feature tightly knit interplay between the musicians, while the rest of the tracks showcase McLaughlin's acoustic solo guitar playing, in a setting where he usually overdubs himself, occasionally adding tasteful and very sparse percussion effects (soft bells and chimes). The overall musical effect amounts to something that defies any attempts at defining it -- it is not jazz, it is certainly not rock or pop, it is not folk, it is some kind of unidentifiable cross-over or fusion in the truest sense of the word.
I first bought this record in the fall of 1974. At that time, I've already been exposed to the complete Mahavishnu Orchestra Mark I catalogue, plus I have assimilated his first solo album Extrapolation as well. Needless to say, I was enraptured by McLaughlin's music and was primed to buy any music that has his name associated with it. Even if someone were to offer me a recording where McLaughlin "Plays Polka Standards On A Kazoo", I'd go for it.
That is why I jumped at an LP with a picture of John smiling, holding his Ovation guitar, the moment I saw it in a record store. But, a funny thing happened -- a store clerk, who fancied himself as being very knowledgeable in the matters of the latest jazz-rock and fusion material, tried to talk me out of buying "My Goal's Beyond"! He was saying how he wouldn't recommend it, and that he was sure that I would not like it. I remember having real trouble registering his words. I mean, there I was, trembling with excitement in anticipation of the most gorgeous music my ears would ever hear, and this guy is doing his best to unsettle me in my convictions! Repeatedly, he tried to warn me that the music on that album is nothing like the Mahavishnu Orchestra stuff, and that, therefore, that album is a pile of crap. He said something like: "It'll just put you to sleep. Cobham's drums were miked like he's playing in another room, and anyway everything is barely audible."
Well, I wouldn't have any of that! Oblivious
to his tiring drone, I've insisted on purchasing the copy, and as soon
as I've got it, rushed straight home. I remember that night as if it happened
yesterday: on my way back home it started to snow. The magical charm of
the freshness of the first snow, covering the streets and the parks, making
the night seem lighter, spilled over into my room. I put the record on
my turntable and was sitting motionless in my chair. Then, it happened...
1. Peace One (7:12)
An even stranger sounding percussion effects fan the flames of curiosity. Airto's playing on this track is simply amazing, as he masterfully employs his battery of Brazilian drums, bells, and other assorted indigenous instruments. He manages to muster the last ounce of exotica using very constrained and economic means.
Cobham joins this strange marching band, playing very subdued, but nevertheless funky grooves behind Haden's forceful double bass. Then, Goodman and Liebman abruptly burst in with the main melody that is so unusual, so angular, that is has to be heard in order to be appreciated (in a way, this melody is similar to the opening melody on "Extrapolation"). In the background, McLaughlin rips some very choppy chords, letting the open low strings dangle and, in general, his comping sounds overly pronounced.
Immediately after the melody subsides, John rips the marching tempo apart with his authoritative solo. His playing is very complex, covering almost the whole neck of his guitar, and introducing the abrupt and masterfully executed stop-and-go rhythmic variety. This disjointed treatment of the rhythmic flow fits perfectly into the ongoing 'limping bass' figure.
In the second half of his solo, he switches to his trademark crosspicking arpeggiating, playing open strings voicings and kicking the complexity factor up a couple of notches. The only thing that retains regular flow is Badal Roy's oddly even and predictable banging on tabla. And this is exactly what we unconsciously follow in order to hold on to the musical thread. Also, both Goodman and Liebman supply masterful supportive "breaths" and "shivers" that are coming from the violin and the flute, respectively -- short abrupt figures that keep enhancing the whole musical drama.
As John's solo progresses, and things get more messed up, the listener begins to feel that a release, a breath of fresh air is badly needed. This release comes in the form of Cobham's forceful break. Hitting his kit with all his might, he interrupts the tangle and cues in the main melody, which is played more quietly this time. This opens new grounds for Liebman's flute solo.
This solo is a masterful reflection of the guitar solo that preceded it. It is equally, busy, messy and uneven in density, supported by the free and informal breaks by Cobham and Haden. The flute sounds adventurous, daring, like a person getting ready for a long and unpredictable journey. It's like the warm and playful wind blowing in the middle of the night, inviting us, enticing us to follow its invisible trail.
All along this fairly loose and almost completely free jamming, the only firm, predictable thing remains Badal Roy's tabla. Only the breaks, which signal the end of the solo and the transition to a new solo, give this composition some shape.
Jerry Goodman enters this midnight windy terrain as if being slightly apprehensive. Like a candle whose flame is frantically being tossed in every which direction by the restless wind, his violin sounds shaky, vulnerable, and apprehensive. He is playing in the best middle European fashion, his buoyant romanticism in full bloom. At odds with this classical posture are Airto's bizarre clanging and screeching and Haden's deep mumbling. A serpentine melody, woven by his violin, reaches its climax in a fiery, dissonant scream, and with the help of Liebman's flute, it falls back into the musical melange which continues to crawl around.
Once again, McLaughlin enters with some of his blazing guitar work, before the whole band finally abandons the free flow of uneven rhythm, and locks again into the 7/8 groove. The limping effect is now even more pronounced, because Cobham keeps hitting the rim of his snare drum on every seventh beat, joined by Airto's exotic wizardry.
The band, limping slowly, fades away.
Despite the overt Indian and other exotic
tones that soak this piece, in the final analysis the overall atmosphere
is more akin to the early European Romanticism. This track is especially
evocative (to my mind, at least) of some of the works of early Romantic
poets such as Novalis
(an 18th Century German Romanticist), Schiller, Goethe, even
early Hermann Hesse. If you get a chance to read marvelous works
by Novalis, you'll probably get a clearer insight into what kind
of a connection can one find between this music and such poetry.
The track begins with a tambura drone similar to the opening drone on "Peace One". The implied tempo is much slower this time, and is reinforced as the mellow, finger-plucked guitar quietly enters. The tabla begins punctuating the floating feel by playing at a deep register and on the upbeat, while Haden plays some of his magical, slow and very deep bass notes. Airto produces jungle-like effects by shaking some exotic percussion instruments. All this suspense creates a fertile ground for the beautiful melody to flourish. And, indeed, it does come off as one of the most beautiful melodies human ears have ever heard.
Played by Liebman on soprano sax and by Goodman on violin, the melody begins its long, spiral ascent enveloped in a teary, enraptured sound of the two instruments meddling together. The overall impression is the one of floating, levitating. As a matter of fact, I have, on more than one occasion, experienced a very liberating feeling of slowly floating above the ground upon truly hearing this melody.
Both players manage to outperform themselves, delivering the most heartfelt rendition of the divine melody. While listening to this prolonged melody, you will no doubt be able to experience eternity, the meaning of the state when time stands still.
The eternal bliss gets interrupted by the earthly swinging of Badal Roy's tabla groove. McLaughlin joins with what could be the most unusual solo in his entire career. Anyone who's objecting that McLaughlin's playing is too fast and too difficult to follow should listen to this solo -- here we get a rare opportunity to hear Johnny McLaughlin the "fasthand" transform himself into Johnny McLaughlin the "slowhand". Every tone that he plays in this solo is carefully crafted, and every note that flies off the gently plucked string is sent floating, following the mood that was set by the melody.
McLaughlin's playing here is warm, heartfelt, simple and very gracious. He is leading the whole procession along the multitude of earthly scenery, pointing to a babbling brook here, or to a refreshing and peaceful arbor there.
The procession, led by McLaughlin's guitar, is beginning to climb uphill. As they reach higher vistas, his guitar gets to be more pronounced, hitting higher notes with passion, announcing the pending ride. As soon as he finishes his last, repetitive phrase, the two spirits (the soprano sax and the violin) jump in and the whole calm procession suddenly dissipates. McLaughlin hits a couple of high-pitched, harsh notes on his guitar, announcing the majestic entry of Liebman's soprano sax solo.
This solo is the highlight of the
whole album. Personally, I have never heard a better soprano saxophone
solo. It is the pinnacle of spiritual expression in music.
Again, romantic poetry (Novalis, Goethe etc.) comes to mind. But not only that -- the atmosphere he invokes is timeless, ageless, spaceless. It pertains to any situation, any culture, any civilization. Listening to this solo, one can begin to comprehend all those miraculous visions experienced by Tibetan Lamas and Chinese Ch'an patriarchs. Truly, utterly liberating, this music is completely beyond the reach of the words -- one must hear it in order to get a foretaste of freedom and perfection.
This saxophone solo segment is so overpowering,
that I usually stop the playback as soon as Liebman finishes, and
right before Goodman enters. I'll leave the exploration of the remaining
magical adventure to the listener.
I was fortunate to watch McLaughlin play this piece live, as a solo act, back in 1979. It had even more edginess in the live setting, and I remember that McLaughlin truly gave it the last atom of his strength. It was actually one of the best performances by McLaughlin I've ever seen, simply unbelievable. But the recorded version is also very fascinating, especially the solo in the middle.
The solo begins after the head melody is finished, and when the deep bass groove is introduced. McLaughlin starts by playing tremolo on the open B string (re-tuned to A). At first, his pick is barely touching the string, making it almost inaudible, and then, gradually, he increases the volume until the acoustic guitar sounds very distorted. He calms it down for a second, and then executes one of his breathtaking fast runs down the blues scale. Quickly up the scale again (and, this time, up the neck), and the blues magic has just begun. Throughout his solo, the use of natural dynamics of the acoustic guitar is sublime. The music flows in tides, washing the shores and then retreating.
Soon, the story, as told by McLaughlin, ends, and he's back to re-instating the opening melody. Second time around, the melody sounds more reserved, more composed, less harsh and promising. Slowly and broodingly, the melody dies out, while the accompanying guitar murmurs in the background.
All along, a mixture of soothing and at the same time, paradoxically, ominous sounding cymbals underscores the brooding atmosphere.
Finally, the intro is over, and McLaughlin announces the main melody with such gusto, that it is hard to believe that so much passion can come from such a fragile instrument. The feeling is that of emergency, especially when he joins in with his overdubbed rhythmic motifs. His right hand rhythm work is nothing short of astounding, as he keeps rehashing the four chord pattern in many unpredictable ways.
As he floats over the wildly punctuated rhythm, McLaughlin's guitar initially stays in its lowest register. There, the forcefulness of his playing propels it eventually to the middle register, where he finally kicks off and goes on a rampage. Now we can literally see the sparks flying every which way -- his playing is awesome, amazingly fast and at the same time soulful. Not only his phrasing, but the tone he can get out of his guitar at such speeds is plainly superhuman. Also, there are some rarely heard special effects played by John during this solo, where he does what sounds like some sort of a 'string pinching', which produces the natural harmonics that sound so voice-like. Again, one is amazed to hear how he can produce those added subtle touches during such fierce and blindingly fast performance (typically, blues guitarists can occasionally make the guitar 'talk' only at an extremely slow tempo).
Finally, things wind down, and he is back into his brooding, searching mode. The ending sounds even more undecided, as John strings those beautiful chords painting the picture of human quest, of the never ending thirsting desire for knowledge and security.
The very ending drags us into the swirl of anguished licks, those agony-meets-ecstasy type of improvisational lines, that make for a perfect commentary on this magnificent piece.
But the real treat begins during the middle, improvised part. McLaughlin is in his top romantic form, playing majestically, varying his dynamics with such subtleties that it makes your jaw drop, and playing with such rich harmonic imaginativeness. After gracefully presenting this sublime beauty, he shifts gears into an overdrive, and treats us to his trademark fiery and lightning fast runs. Again, incredible mastery of the guitar, astonishingly fast thinking. The execution is simply perfect. Everything he plays sounds so easy, but if you ever try to duplicate this sound, you'll find yourself scratching your head.
The magical solo flight is unfortunately too short, and before you know it, he is back at reinstating the melody. John masterfully plays the same melody with a totally different feel, overemphasizing certain shapes in order to communicate feelings of infatuation and fulfillingness.
The song ends in one of the most gorgeous
raptures of ecstasy, the guitars swirling like dervishes lost in a deep
John opens the song by banging Am11 on his Ovation. Throughout the song, the underlying rhythmic pattern is masterfully intricate, depicting some middle eastern trance-like mood. The head melody is conspicuously missing, as John jumps in with his improvised lines right away. As always, his playing is forceful, very articulate and emphatic. It is a stop-and-go meter for a while, the uneven feel permeating the background. Soon we reach the middle part, where John treats us to a very subdued, passionate intermezzo, tastefully enhanced by a soft-sounding bell.
The restful period didn't last very long -- we're back to the fierce swirling of his trans-inducing rapid melodic phrases. This time around, his playing is much imbued with pathos and some inexplicable pensiveness. The dramatic effects are underlined by the unsettling sounds of the cymbals that are swelling in the background.
Abruptly, the song ends on a short, condensed
McLaughlin's playing throughout this piece is breathtaking. His command of the whole instrument is simply unbelievable. I was fortunate to watch him perform this composition in concert, where he single-handedly managed to play such intricate passages that it made my hair stand on its end.
In the second part of this track, McLaughlin
is skillfully adding extra color by utilizing the rich timbre of his guitar
by positioning his right hand close to the bridge as well as plucking the
strings over the fretboard. The overall result is absolutely mesmerizing.
The melody is played using octaves, which, for some reason, gives a tropical sound to the whole piece. A very dynamic treatment of the melody together with the underlying chords conjures huge tropical waves crushing on the sandy beach.
The suspended tail end of the melody, enchanted by the growing tension that the repeated harmonics introduce, announce a beautiful, exquisitely crafted solo. In the best tradition of his passionate playing, McLaughlin displays a wide variety of guitaristic pyrotechnics with the end result that's totally enchanting. His approach to improvising over this simple vamp is forceful, and conjures up vast and immeasurable spaces.
The murky, passionate storm brought by
McLaughlin's guitar can leave the listeners completely exhausted. The ending
of this marvelous piece is very fitting -- everything gets a bit quieter,
as the murmuring guitar keeps circumscribing the unexplored terrain. The
loving, tender sounds fade gradually away.
The melody quiets down when John enters fiercely with his hair-raising rhythm chordwork. The turbulent feel is similar to the song number 6 ("Phillip Lane"), but the soloing on top of the frantic rhythm is much more focused, much less noodling-like. Also, similar to "Phillip Lane", the frantic soloing is spurned by the 'waves' of cymbals.
Towards the end of the middle, improvised part, John delivers a breath-taking rhythmic pattern which gets picked up by the overdubbed solo guitar. Immediately after that, the whole turmoil subsides, and we're back to the main melody. The ending is executed with even more intense passion, and is loaded with pathos and weltschmertz.
The very last tone sounds, in an uncanny
way, as if someone had just blown the candle flame.
The slow, staggered tempo is underlined by the crystal clear sound of high pitched bells which occasionally chime in. The overdubbed guitars sound as if he had re-tuned them even lower than on most other tracks. This gives him a very unusual sound, which he is obviously delighted to explore to the max.
The absolute gem is his solo which happens in the middle section. The tone is bordering on weird, but the expressiveness is quite divine. The shape and the phrasing of this solo are very unusual, but that actually contributes to the exquisite beauty of this rendition.
In the final part, the two guitars are
intertwined and entangled, murmuring, stepping on each others' toes, much
to the listeners' delight. The song closes on a muted tone -- a perfect
ending for a perfect album.