A living legend of improvised music, with a career now spanning more than five decades, John McLaughlin, anointed high priest of fusion is no stranger to translating tumultuous moments into compelling, thoughtful audio art. Witness his searing contributions to Miles Davis’ infamous Jack Johnson sessions, the explosively pioneering rock/jazz hybrid he helped create as a member of the first edition of Tony Williams’ Lifetime, or the expansive explorations encompassed by his own music -- be it the rhythmic revolution of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the unprecedented east/west fusion of Shakti, or the thrilling telepathic interplay his current outfit, the 4th Dimension.
With his newest album, Liberation Time, set for release tomorrow, July 16th, McLaughlin draws from one of humanity’s most fraught, uncertain epochs to produce music that gracefully reflects the uncertainty, vulnerability, and slowly awakening joy of our times. A direct response to the mandated restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19, the album is -- unusually for McLaughlin’s recent projects -- not the work of one fixed ensemble. With physical proximity no longer a prerequisite, McLaughlin drew upon decades of experience as a bandleader to select musicians best suited to each composition. Courtesy of his label Abstract Logix enjoy a preview, HERE
“As the Spirit Sings” introduces the album by contrasting churning rhythmic tension (stoked by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bassist Sam Burgess) with McLaughlin’s soaring guitar figures -- all underpinned by Gary Husband’s subtle, supportive piano. The knotty post-bop figures of “Right Here, Right Now, Right On” mark one of the most jazz-inflected performances McLaughlin has laid down in some time, featuring Nicolas Viccaro (drums), Jerome Regard (bass), Julian Siegel (tenor saxophone), and Oz Ezzeldin (piano). The sense of brotherhood that bonds McLaughlin’s current 4th Dimension ensemble (McLaughlin, Husband, bassist Etienne Mbappe, and drummer Ranjit Barot) is on full display during “Lockdown Blues,” a playful refraction examination of blues tropes first released last summer to benefit the Jazz Foundation of America. The Financial Times calls it the track “a dashing exercise in jazz-guitar shredding and rhythmic sprightliness.”
With vaccination campaigns now in full effect and a more promising tomorrow coming into view, Liberation Time’s title track can be felt as visceral anticipation -- a rousing glimpse into an unbound future rich with possibilities. Of the cut, WBGO's Greg Bryant said "McLaughlin unleashes a vigorous, nearly seven-minute solo of the highest intensity that never lets loose. It is the driven, spirited and fearless McLaughlin that his fans have come to expect.” And while much of the album revels in the sort of spontaneous interplay that has been denied by Covid restrictions, some of the album’s most touching moments feature McLaughlin alone at the piano -- an instrument he has not recorded on since his 1973 collaboration with Carlos Santana, Love Devotion Surrender.
Liberation Time is a product of its times, and yet it looks both forwards and backwards -- at once drawing upon memories of better days yet reaching for a new dawn. London Jazz News raves, “as for McLaughlin’s legendary ‘chops’ fans will not be disappointed!...John is clearly inspired and plays magnificently, as always, throughout the record.” Looking back at the album’s transcontinental sessions, McLaughlin concludes, “The wonderful thing about music is that you put the headphones on and you are all in the same room.”
Exclusive limited collector's edition bundles as well as CD, vinyl and early digital access pre-orders are available here.
Liberation Time Track Listing
The Spirit Sings
Singing Our Secrets
Right Here, Right Now, Right On
Shade of Blue