John McLaughlin and The Heart of Things: Mother Tongues
The Heart of Things
Live in Paris (Verve 543 536-2)
John McLaughlin (guitar),
Gary Thomas (sax), Otmaro Ruiz (keyboards), Matthew Garrison (bass), Dennis Chambers (drums), Victor Williams (percussion).
Composed by John McLaughlin.
Recorded: Paris, November 1998
Rating: 94/100 (learn more)
John McLaughlin's Heart of Things was a hot band. But you would really have to hear the group live to buy into that proposition. The band's earlier studio album The Heart of Things never quite caught fire. McLaughlin went the umpteenth mile to create an ensemble feel, and may have overdone things a bit. When he did play, McLaughlin's guitar tone didn't help either. In a carryover from his Free Spirits band, his warm guitar tone would often get lost in the mix. Live in Paris was a totally different experience. McLaughlin took a lead playing role on this tour. And thank God you could hear him. His tone had been tweaked just enough so you didn't have to strain your ears. He also employed a good amount of distortion to get his points across.
"Mother Tongues" first appeared on McLaughlin's album Live at Royal Festival Hall a decade earlier. In that instance, the song was a showcase for the remarkable Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu. That was an acoustic performance. "Mother Tongues" in Paris was pure electricity. McLaughlin starts the piece with some rhythmic grunge chords before the awesome Dennis Chambers kicks in. The head arrangement is a pulsating blob. Saxophonist Gary Thomas inserts a long, middling solo that seems to serve more as a jumping-off point for what is to come rather than a showcase for his musical scope. At solo's end the tempo picks up appreciably, and we hear the main event. McLaughlin and keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz engage in a phenomenally entertaining call and response. This duel ranks right up there with any I have heard McLaughlin partake in. That is a strong statement, considering McLaughlin's musical partners over the years. Tension is built on each turn as the tempo picks up speed a millisecond at a time until about the 30th turn, when everyone is ready to burst. This section includes fun, tension, ridiculous speed and virtuosity. The crowd wildly cheers the split-second this frantic call and response gets hit by a bus. The main theme, for all its complicated syncopation and twists and turns, is played as if the band members were one organism. "Mother Tongues" speaks loud and clear.
Live in Paris indicated to McLaughlin fans that he was once again ready to claim leadership of the best jazz-fusion band around. But within a year, he was back playing Indo-jazz with a newly reformed Shakti. You can never trust McLaughlin to stick with anything for very long. It is frustrating and invigorating at the same time.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky