John McLaughlin: Django
John McLaughlin (guitar)
The Promise (Verve 314 529 828-2)
Tony Hymas (keyboards), Pino Palladino (bass), Mark Mondesir (drums).
Composed by John Lewis.
Recorded: London, England, 1995
Rating: 96/100 (learn more)
Guitarists John McLaughlin and Jeff Beck are great friends and admirers of each other's fretwork. Beck, who is only a few weeks away from being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame as I write these words, has a rich history going back to the '60s and the Yardbirds. He was a pioneer of the English rock guitar sound along with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. McLaughlin, who would be in a Hall of Fame if they had one that covered all of the subgenres he has helped create, was in England the same time as Beck, but was part of the British R&B and jazz movement that was quite distinctive from the British Invasion and London pop scene. Beck was getting bored with music in the early 1970s. Then, while in the band Beck, Bogart & Appice, he heard McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. The next thing you know, Beck is playing jazz-rock with Jan Hammer and Narada Michael Walden and selling millions of records! Beck's and McLaughlin's bands began to tour with each other. The two guitarists would close out most shows with a guitar jam.
John Lewis, the sophisticated pianist for the Modern Jazz Quartet, wrote the beautiful jazz standard "Django." The composition is a fragile piece with a slightly swinging midsection. It became part of the MJQ's repertoire and has been covered many times. But I can assure you it was never covered by two electric guitar fusion gods until its appearance on McLaughlin's The Promise!
Keyboardist Tony Hymas provides a textural background as Beck plays the main melody. McLaughlin adds some accents behind him. What a sound Beck gets! It is gorgeous. He is more than just a guitar player. He is an amazing interpreter who knows how to shape his sounds. That slightly swinging midsection has been transformed into a blues vamp. It rocks and it rocks hard. This isn't a swing, it's a seesaw. Drummer Mark Mondesir and bassist Pino Palladino make sure of that.
It is McLaughlin's turn to play. The first impression is one of disappointment. You are not quite sure you like his guitar tone or the direction of his playing. This is an understandable reaction because you just heard the beauty of Beck's efforts. But soon you realize McLaughlin is building. You will be fully on board by solo's end. Beck is the yin and McLaughlin is the yang. They must sound different to create tension. Fantastic tradeoffs ensue. In the hands of these distinct, historic and powerful guitarists what was once a demure but impressive Modern Jazz Quartet staple has been turned into a fusion blues rave-up. No one wore a tux when they recorded this piece.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky