John McLaughlin: Thelonius Melodius
The Free Spirits
The Promise (Verve 314 529 828-2)
Composed by John McLaughlin.
Recorded: Tokyo, Japan, 1995
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
John McLaughlin's Free Spirits featured Dennis Chambers on drums and Joey DeFrancesco on organ. It was the standard B-3 organ jazz trio format that McLaughlin had always loved. Of course, this trio was different. The playing was more aggressive (read that as fusion) and music from a wider swath was played. I like the B-3 sound okay, and DeFrancesco is a killer player. But I have my limits on the instrument. Yet more than that, McLaughlin's guitar tone was so similar to DeFrancesco's organ that when they played together you couldn't hear McLaughlin. In concert this was less problematic because you could see, but it was still there. This performance of "Thelonius Melodius," recorded during the band's Blue Note gig that yielded their Tokyo Live, was not included on that earlier album. I suspect this track was mixed differently, since you can hear McLaughlin much better!
"Thelonius Melodius" is a whirling blues romp that in many ways harkens back to McLaughlin's Tony Williams Lifetime days. There are stops and starts, sudden minor chord progressions that take the piece off center, plenty of unison playing, and energetic calls and responses. The only thing missing from the Lifetime sound is the distortion. McLaughlin can be clearly heard on this cut. It was always such a shame to know that he was playing something fantastic yet we couldn't quite hear it on the Live album. The interplay between Chambers, DeFrancesco and McLaughlin is at telepathic levels. The Free Spirits was far from my favorite McLaughlin band. Still, they were killing. Ironically, if this performance had been on Tokyo Live it would have been the album's best cut.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky