John McLaughlin: The Montreux Years

Sample of the guitarist's playing at the Swiss festival contains some excellent music but spread over 32 years it lacks unity


I must admit to remaining unconvinced about this ongoing series of Montreux Festival highlights, bringing together as they do eight or so unrelated tracks recorded live over two or more decades that are tied together only by the common denominator of their star performer.

In John McLaughlin’s case, it makes even less sense, as, apart from his overt virtuosity, little links his jazz-rock workouts with the Mahavishnu Orchestra to the flamboyant exuberance of his duets with Paco de Lucia or to the clinically precise but essentially soulless direction of the Heart of Things band.

That said, there is some fine music here, notably the gently lilting Nostalgia from the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1984, with both Bill Evans on soprano and Jonas Hellborg on bass guitar in outstanding form, the slow-burning Sing Me Softly Of The Blues with the organ of Joey DeFrancesco leading the Free Spirits in 1995, and of course the two de Lucia duets from 1987, the first, David, gaining in intensity as it progresses, the second, Florianopolis, a joyous head-to-head that should bring a smile to every listener. The concluding El Hombre Que Sabia is a tribute to de Lucia recorded in 2016, the piano of Gary Husband a welcome contrast to all the electric energy that has gone before.

It is obviously good to have this music now readily available – and McLaughlin is nothing if not an enticing musician to listen to – but who in their right mind would want to sit through seven unconnected live tracks recorded up to 32 years apart is beyond my understanding. I’d rather experience the live shows in their entirety.

(1) Radio Activity; Nostalgia; (2) Acid Jazz; (3) David; (4) Sing Me Softly Of The Blues; (3) Florianapolis; (5) El Hombre Que Sabia (73.14)
McLaughlin (elg) plus: (1) The Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1984. (2) The Heart of Things, 1998. (3) Paco de Lucia (g), 1987. (4) The Free Sprits, 1995. (5) The 4th Dimension, 2016. All live at Montreux, Switzerland.