Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Mediterranean Concerto-John McLaughlin

After the revelation of Apocalypse I moved on to Visions and Inner worlds. Both contain artistic coups, great playing, but somehow don’t quite reach that point of fulfilment that Apocalypse does. They are projects full of ideas and sparkle but lacking that roundness and completion that makes them summits and entirely satisfying. Both exhibit a quality from this period shared by other music, a sense of fusing elements that ultimately do not belong together and make something less than the sum of its parts. "Welcome" by Santana. "Sound Chaser" by Yes and Patrick’s  "I" were all brilliant, outstanding but also would have benefitted from slightly less ingredients in the mix.   
I had no idea, that with Michael Tilson-Thomas conducting, John had recorded a concerto. Down the years a number of “classical” pieces have been recorded by those who made their name elsewhere. What makes this concerto special is it sounds like an extension of his natural musical personality rather than something separate and different. As a listener it feels more natural and organic rather than merely an exercise in fulfilling a musical ambition.

Movement 1
The first movement opens in a playful shimmering of strings and guitar responses, immediately John is central to matters stating the lively theme and playing off the orchestra. Most interestingly he is improvising and pleasingly his work sounds connected to  his work with de Lucia and di Meola. This gives the music an inner sense of character. At 3.53 the mood changes and drops down into a romantic Spanish mood. This really is a “Mediterranean concerto” with the first segment reminding me of Monteverdi’s playful madrigals. The up tempo mood returns and as with Apocalypse the relationship between the orchestra and, in this case, Johns guitar work is highly empathetic. At 7.00 the mood is plaintive and John takes the mood right down controls the music and the orchestra returns enveloping him beautifully, this is a device that is repeated throughout. John takes over improvises and then takes the music elsewhere, he is the musical pilot for the orchestra. The music takes many twists and turns before finally returning to the themes from the opening salvo and finish’s in a playful fanfare.

Movement 2

The second movement is a real surprise. It is the tune “David” from Passion, Grace and Fire. Revising music and placing it in a different environment is hardly new but the lyricism of this tune is now given full reign. If the first movement has the joy of the Italian composers it would be appropriate if the David is Michelangelo’s. John’s rippling guitar work makes the most of the beautiful central theme and cross’s backwards and forward between Jazz and Spanish fault lines. At 4.45 the music making is utterly gorgeous as the cello echoes the melody that John plays with such delicacy. The tinkling of vibes offsets John’s continuing lyrical audacity with surges from the orchestra as the passion of the piece grows. As we move into the last 7 minutes Copland springs to mind. Now John is playing a full blown cadenza whose themes are taken up by the orchestra giving the music a relentless Shostakovich like feel and finally it comes down to a recapitulation of the main David tune with a quiet seductive sympathetic string arrangement-glorious music which makes you feel good to be alive!
Movement 3

The third movement opens "Mahavishnu like" with a roll on the drums but quickly resolves into a chase between the various orchestral forces, John scuttling in and out, counterpointing the strings next a change of key and a more stately evocation of the tune, at 4.14 another cadenza, once again setting the mood for the orchestra to corroborate, this time a flute joins the fun. Like the first movement this isn’t a traditional faster outer movement it has its own internal story to tell. In the final moments the two main themes are given full reign and after the briefest moment of calm the brass relentlessly push the piece to a frenzied conclusion.
Over on Side 2 to use the LP parlance are five pieces with Latia Labique. Full of melody, rhapsodic playing from Latia and John standing out and back when the music needs it. All the pieces offer something, but I love Zakir, gentle careful subtle music making, full of both joy and sadness, the joy of beauty witnessed edged with a bitter sweet sadness.

This was a very clever piece of programming and gives the project breadth allowing the single concerto to stand out magnificently.