John McLaughlin: La Baleine
John McLaughlin (acoustic guitar)
Belo Horizonte (Warner Bros. 2292 57001-2)
John McLaughlin (acoustic guitar),
Francois Jeanneau (sax), 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: 98/100 (learn more)
We start with the obligatory. John McLaughlin plays a mean guitar. It defies all reason that the man playing the dazzling acoustic guitar heard here could be the same one who could rupture your eardrums with an electric assault from the plugged-in version with a volume knob that goes up to infinity. But he is one and the same.
The tender melody of "La Baleine" is treated nonetheless feverishly by McLaughlin. After a brief prelude, the guitarist's clean resonating notes come at you in such rapid spurts that they threaten your capacity to distinguish the intervals between them. Yet rather than flummox you, these spirited runs charm you. There is no time to wonder how he does this. There is just time to marvel. The piece combines a quixotic theme with several tempo changes that range from lush ballad to excited swing. There is a certain classic European flair to the proceedings. You are not drinking beer while listening to this performance. You are probably dressed up a bit. If not, you need to be.
I have not mentioned the contributions of the rest of the band. That is for good reason. They all play fine. But with the exception of a flourish here or there, they simply support this McLaughlin foray. In addition to being a village in the North of France, "La Baleine" is as pure a showcase for the beauty of McLaughlin's composing and acoustic guitar playing as you will likely ever hear.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky