Veteran guitar grandmaster John McLaughlin has earned a place in the top echelon of the six-string pantheon.
His virtuosity has been on display in a number of divergent settings throughout his celebrated career, beginning in the early 1960s as the electric guitarist for Georgie Fame’s rocking Blue Flames. From there he covered a wide swath of musical territory. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, he explored electric guitar jazz-rock fusion with Tony Williams’s Lifetime and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, On the Corner and Live at the Cellar Door bands. (It was through McLaughlin’s tenure with Miles tenure that he got to work with Chick Corea.)
McLaughlin also formed his own seminal fusion group, Mahavishnu Orchestra, which burst onto the scene with two artistic and commercial blockbusters, 1971’s The Inner Mounting Flame and 1972’s Birds of Fire.
While a fusion superhero, McLaughlin proved to be a master guitarist not content to dwell in predictable territory for too long a spell. He delved into acoustic guitar playing, working with Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu as well as recording a gorgeous acoustic homage to Bill Evans, Time Remembered. McLaughlin also toured with Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, composed two critically acclaimed concertos for classical guitar and orchestra, and played jazz-infused Indian classical music with his band Shakti.
In subsequent years he revisited that group with the Remember Shakti tour. In 2005 McLaughlin recorded Thieves and Poets, his first new studio album in six years. It featured his buoyant, classical-tinged three-part suite for acoustic guitar and orchestra performed by him and The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie conducted by Renalto Rivolta.
In recent years McLaughlin’s recording output has expanded. Of his 2006 plugged-in Industrial Zen CD, he said, “I’m a Western musician and my discipline is jazz. I want to give testimony to my [jazz-rock] roots.” And his most recent album, Floating Point, another electric date with a band of Indian musicians, was praised by DownBeat as “a landmark recording, marked by detail, subtlety and extraordinary moving performances.”