John McLaughlin: Seven Sisters
The Heart of Things
The Heart of Things: Live in Paris (Verve 543 536-2)
Otmaro Ruiz (keyboards), Matthew Garrison (bass).
Composed by John McLaughlin.
Recorded: Paris, France, November 1998
Rating: 91/100 (learn more)
"Seven Sisters" opens the very fine Heart of Things album Live in Paris, the first time many people heard the band performing live. Their previous studio album, The Heart of Things, had disappointed some fans, who were bothered by two main issues. First, there seemed to be a concerted effort towards an ensemble sound. Second was the ongoing issue of John McLaughlin's guitar tone. Lots of fusion folks didn't like it. That would include yours truly. It seemed too warm and muted. There wasn't enough bite. And McLaughlin was all about bite! Add the first to the second and you had an album on which McLaughlin took few solos, and the ones he did take were hard to hear! So, as you can imagine, longtime fans approached Live in Paris with trepidation.
Luckily, most of the concerns proved unfounded. McLaughlin's tone still wasn't the best, but it had been vastly improved. The live setting also improved things because musicians had more space to fill. There were more solos all around.
The opener comes complete with gentle McLaughlin and Otmaro Ruiz's keyboard arpeggios. Saxophonist Gary Thomas plays a nice melody above them. A Chambers smashing drum cues the band into a fusion groove. The tune has all the things you expect from a McLaughlin-led band. There is tight unison playing, twists and turns and meter changes, trading at breakneck speeds, explorations at a snail's pace. Both McLaughlin's and Thomas's solos are surprisingly restrained. Nonetheless, they are cleverly part of a slowly building tension that is almost imperceptible. This is how great musicians can control time. The band goes from control to frenzy and then to peaceful resolution. "Seven Sisters" hit just the right notes to whet the appetite for what was to follow. Old fans sighed in relief.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky