Monday, June 18, 2012

Trinomials: Mahavishnu John McLaughlin

Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Desert Song

There might have been something in my subconscious that directed me towards my choice this week, but it wasn’t until I had gotten a start on this by ripping the song from the CD that the association hit me; I had already made my decision to bring you something from Mahvishnu John McLaughlin. You see, we are about a week away from the close of the academic year, and although I have a handful of his albums, I was converting track 4 from “School Days” to mp3 format.

School Days is Stanley Clarke’s fourth, a “solo” album that came out in 1976. Track 4 is called Desert Song. Here, we’ve got Stanley Clarke playing a stand-up bass and John McLaughlin (he’s known both by his two-name and three-name appellation) on acoustic guitar. The album (CD) credits list a collection of string personnel, so I’m not sure who it is playing with them. But the album is one of my all-time favorites, partly because it was the first time I had ever heard the innovative slap-style and fretless bass and partly because this was jazz that was funky.

The guitar work, since the focus is on the musician with the three names, is typical “Mahavishnu” from this period: mystic and Eastern. Clarke and McLaughlin complement each other well – in energy and speed. At about 3.20 into the song, you can hear McLaughlin take his solo. It sounds like his guitar is at once a Western and an Eastern instrument.

In the early 70s McLaughlin took Sri Chinmoy as his guru as well as adding the spiritual name given to him by Sri Chinmoy as part of his name.  “Maha” is a prefix that exists in several languages, including Turkish as well as Hindi, and it means “great”, ie: Great Vishnu. McLaughlin introduced Carlos Santana to Sri Chinmoy, whence he got the third name he, too, used for a number years in the 70s until he broke with the guru: “Devadip” Carlos Santana. In 1973, the two of them put out the album Love Devotion Surrender that shows the influence of Sri Chinmoy on their work.

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