John McLaughlin: The Divide
The Heart of Things
The Heart of Things: Live in Paris (Verve 543 536-2)
Otmaro Ruiz (keyboards), Matthew Garrison (bass).
Composed by Gary Thomas.
Recorded: Paris, France, November 1998
Rating: 99/100 (learn more)
Live in Paris is a candidate for best fusion album of the 1990s. John McLaughlin made sure he had the drummer he needed to lead such a powerful band: Dennis Chambers. McLaughlin also chose rising bass star Matt Garrison, son of legend Jimmy Garrison, to hold the floor boards down. The original keyboard player Jim Beard was unavailable for this tour, so McLaughlin invited wizard Otmaro Ruiz to take his place. Then there was saxophonist Gary Thomas. McLaughlin called him "revolutionary." I listened and wasn't so sure. I am still not. Is he a brilliant player or just average? It is possible that seeing Thomas in performance may have tainted my opinion. He is a hulk of a man, but barely moves during performance. I never get the feeling he is enjoying himself. But I am 100% sure of a couple of things. You can't be a slouch and be invited to play with John McLaughlin! And Gary Thomas wrote the most dramatic composition on Live in Paris.
"The Divide" is downright nasty. The opening unison salvos from Thomas and McLaughlin are bad intentioned. Nothing but doom could come from these gnarled patterns. Thomas solos first, in a halting fashion sometimes plumbing the depths of despair. Okay. He is pretty good here, I must admit. He continues, caught in a whirlpool and being pulled down fast by the textures and rhythms surrounding him. At solo's end, the band revisits the opening theme, which now firmly has you in its grasp. Chambers and Garrison keep this drama on the road. I do not like it when John McLaughlin runs his guitar through a ring-modulator, but the ugliness of "The Divide" calls for it. It sounds terrible. He is grinding meat bones with grizzle still attached. Let's get farther down! Then we are thrown for a loop. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Playing great synthesizer, Otmaro Ruiz enters the bloodbath determined to raise everyone's spirits. It is fun – for a minute or two. But Ruiz knows what tune he is playing on. Fun now becomes fear. Ruiz builds tension that can only be released by the reemergence of the master melody. And here it comes, just in time. Another moment or two, and we might be considering suicide. Even so, we would die exhilarated and happy.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky