The Five Peace Band — guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardist Chick Corea, alto saxist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade — opened the last leg of a multi-month tour with a three-night stand at Jazz at Lincoln Center last night. The players’ musicianship can’t be faulted, their energy was high and they looked like they were deeply engaged in having fun. So are my expectations and/or standards disproportionate, unfulfillable? Why at concert end did I feel more enervated than invigorated?
Having informed Al Di Meola, electric guitarist in Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, during a radio program a couple weeks ago that he was never my favorite fusion plectrist (but I have received a passel of his recent albums and I’m trying to catch up by listening to them), I’ve got to admit my overwhelming partiality to McLaughlin. I liked his sound from first exposure to his debut albums of 40 years ago — heavy-weight Devotion, gentle My Goal’s Beyond and the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s unprecedented Inner Mounting Flame, as well as his major contributions to Tony Williams Lifetime’s Emergency!, Miles Davis‘ In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and On The Corner, Carla Bley’s Escalator Over the Hill — and a fine but under-rated album titled Spaces which he recorded with Corea, Larry Coryell (whose project it really was, though to his credit you can’t tell it from the highly collaborative music played), Miroslav Vitous, Billy Cobham and yes, Corea on electric piano. I was delighted by McLaughlin’s acoustic Indian-collaborative ensemble Shakti, which I reviewed for the original Chicago Daily News in the mid ’70s during its first, little-heralded tour. I’ve interviewed McLaughlin twice (as published in my book Future Jazz and the unauthorized posting here) and have found him extremely articulate, intelligent, modest yet self-aware, humorous — quite the admirable gentleman. The proof is in his music: at its best hot and cool, impassioned and complex, rockin’ and lyrical, balanced and outrageous. I think he plays earnestly and ambitiously every time out, though I’ve seen performances of both his electric and acoustic groups where something intangible keeps my from feeling as happy as I want to be.
gle note (maybe he’s doing something else, that’s as close as I could deduce from the sound) which rendered notes’ actual pitches sort of irrelevant. His best solos — for instance, “Air India” on Escalator, “Go Ahead, John” on Miles’ Big Fun — have always included bold, legato inventions besides rapid-fire attacks. The attack was there, but inventive variations seemed at a premium.