John McLaughlin: Stardust On Your Sleeve


Stardust On Your Sleeve


John McLaughlin (acoustic guitar)


Belo Horizonte (Warner Brothers 2292 57001-2)

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John McLaughlin (acoustic guitar),

Francois Jeanneau (saxophone), Katia LaBeque, Francois Couturier (keyboards), Jean Paul Celea (bass), Tommy Campbell (drums), Jean Pierre Drouet, Steve Sheman (percussion)


Composed by John McLaughlin


Recorded: Paris, June 1981


Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

I am on record someplace saying "Stardust On Your Sleeve" is the most beautiful melody John McLaughlin ever wrote. The band that recorded Belo Horizonte, informally known as The Translators, was a mix of European jazz and classical players. And indeed, many of the tunes they recorded were beautiful. Though the compositions were very melodic, a lot of this beauty had to do with the instrumentation used. A ridiculous advertising campaign at the time claimed that McLaughlin was blazing a new trail by playing acoustic guitar with an all-electric band, which would have been more convincing if it had been true. The fact is that 90% of the music on the album was acoustic or acoustic sounding. There are heavy electronics on one cut at most. This was a fusion of a different sort. A lush European vibe filled the air.

I think it was John Scofield, the great jazz guitarist, who was once asked why he didn't play acoustic guitar more often. He replied that the answer was simple. He didn't play it because everyone sounded the same on acoustic guitar, except John McLaughlin. (If Scofield didn't say it, someone else did. And if someone else didn't, I am saying it!) No one plays acoustic guitar like John McLaughlin. He is capable of great speed or elegance, or both. He can play it gut-rough or with romantic clarity, as he does here. His tone and intent can be a calming influence one moment and a call to action the next. His ability to change directions and time-signatures in mid-flight threatens to put a wrinkle in the time-space continuum. He bends notes so far that he puts tensile-strength limits to the test. You get the point. He is a master.

McLaughlin opens "Stardust" with lilting runs that disappear into the ether. The drums enter and the tune suddenly becomes a slow blues swing with classical overtones. The band creates a fully textured wall of sound for McLaughlin and saxophonist Jeanneau to solo wonderfully against. Occasionally, McLaughlin and Jeanneau double on the theme. The character of "Stardust" veers slightly Brazilian or French as McLaughlin continues to lovingly deconstruct every scale known to man. The opening theme returns in all of its splendor only to fade away. If this recording were the only thing anyone ever heard of McLaughlin's work, they would think he was a great 20th-century romantic composer and classical guitarist. They would not even have a clue that he was improvising.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

Related Links

In Conversation with John McLaughlin by Walter Kolosky
The Dozens: John McLaughlin on Standards by Walter Kolosky

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