John McLaughlin: When Love Is Far Away
When Love Is Far Away
The Heart of Things
The Heart of Things (Verve 314 539 123-2)
John McLaughlin (guitar).
Composed by John McLaughlin.
Recorded: Milan, Italy, 1997
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
There is an ongoing dispute in John McLaughlin's fan community. One contingent of McLaughlin admirers has been bothered by his guitar tone or use of guitar synthesizers over the years. This issue first raised its head back in the '80s when McLaughlin began using the Synclaviar guitar synthesizer. On those early records, it was difficult to determine when McLaughlin was playing because the character of his instrument could be a trombone, trumpet or flute. Eventually he found a way to use the synth guitar more effectively. But even his real electric guitar tone changed. During his stint with The Free Spirits, his sound was so warm that it often blended into Joey DeFrancesco's B-3 organ, making it almost inaudible. This was a phenomenon heard mostly on record. Live, when you could see John manipulate his guitar, you saw and heard the difference. That same sound and tone issue is present on The Heart of Things. I come in on all sides of this synthesizer vs. guitar vs. warm tone business. I prefer the non-synthesized and non-warm. But if a great melody can overcome the shortcomings of the synth or the less than desirable tone, then it doesn't bother me even a quaver.
Cop Out Warning: "When Love Is Far Away" is a beautiful solo acoustic ballad tacked on to the end of the very electric The Heart of Things. Recorded live, it possesses all of the attributes that make McLaughlin one of the greatest guitarists today and surely one of the most distinct on acoustic guitar. McLaughlin does accompany himself in a way by using a droning sound and slight added ringing echo to some chords produced by a MIDI controller. But for all intents and purposes, this is an acoustic performance. Improvisation is the star on this piece. McLaughlin plays all around the subtle melody like a kitten pawing at a hanging ball of yarn. Kittens have sharp claws, so you have to be prepared for some lightning-fast attacks even in the midst of this slow tempo performance. This is a wonderful performance made all the more so because it is a rare chance to hear McLaughlin play acoustic solo guitar outside of his tours with The Guitar Trio. Another version of this song was heard on McLaughlin's Free Spirits' Live in Tokyo album featuring Joey DeFrancesco on trumpet playing the lead melody. This is the better version.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky