JJ 02/80: John McLaughlin and Friends at The Rainbow

The guitarist with Billy Cobham, Jack Bruce Stu and Goldberg, reviewed in concert at the venerated London rock venue. in First published in Jazz Journal February 1980


Well, well, well. So the age of the instrumental superstar is not quite over, as the cobbled up one off band of John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Jack Bruce and keyboards player Stu Goldberg (not quite a superstar) showed with its sell-out concert at the Rainbow, with hundreds milling about outside, ticketless. Whatever weaknesses the music may have had it was very obvious that the four protagonists were enjoying themselves immensely, at the end of what had clearly been a successful short tour of Europe. The strange thing is that, were it possible, they would probably enjoy themselves even more if not forced by the ineluctible logic of this end of the business to play in large halls with all the lighting rigs, huge amplification, dry ice and the general showbiz razzmatazz that this situation demands. I could imagine them getting into some real grooves in a smaller, more intimate venue.

As it was there was a great deal of flash and some absolutely brilliant playing, but the sheer necessity to play up to the environment produced music, which, in the end, struck me as being rather empty. All the ‘jazz’ seemed to be at breakneck speed – Cobham and McLaughlin can really turn it on – but without too much melodic content. The most memorable events therefore were the ‘odd’ bits – McLaughlin’s tender duet on his Ovation, with Goldberg at the acoustic piano; his own blues based guitar feature with many a nod to John Lee Hooker, and a piece of Cobham throwaway showmanship down front on one snare drum. He passed a single stroke roll from hand to hand in quite incredible fashion.

Cobham seems to suffer from considerable critical backlash. As with Krupa and Rich before him I think that jazz is all the better for these amazing technicians – they generate a lot of interest in drums and point people in a jazz direction. The best thing about him is that for all the technique, vast kit and multiple miking, he is an extremely modest player. His solos, all short, were structured between ensemble comments and were marvels of how to impress, without ramming technique down your throat.
Christopher Bird