It has been over 30 years since John McLaughlin released Birds of Fire
with his Mahavishnu Orchestra. By crossing over into mainstream pop music charts, this recording and McLaughlin’s subsequent explorations incorporating music from all over the globe, certainly established McLaughlin as one of the preeminent guitarists (in any genre) of the modern era. With his newest release Thieves and Poets
, McLaughlin again demonstrates his incredible command of his instrument (this time the acoustic variety) blindingly fast technique, and tasteful artistry as a performer and composer. The music on Thieves and Poets
is a blend between new material penned by McLaughlin and further interpretations of great standards each dedicated to a pianist who McLaughlin felt had been particularly influential in his career.
The opening selection "Thieves and Poets" is a three-part suite orchestrated by Yan Maresz. Upon listening one cannot resist hearing and comparing this work to well known works for guitar and orchestra by classical composers such as Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Joaquin Rodrigo. One also may thinly consider a Rodrigo-Miles Davis-John McLaughlin connection via the Miles Davis/Gill Evans collaboration Sketches of Spain
and that McLaughlin was at one time a side man for the jazz trumpet legend. Aside from these connections which really do not necessarily have any bearing one way or another on McLaughlin’s present opus, the music on Thieves and Poets
is certainly very thought provoking musically. "Thieves and Poets" draws upon the total color palate of the full orchestra to serve not only as a backdrop to his guitar, but also with solo violin, clarinet, and tympani having significant interacting parts with the guitar solo.
The standards presented are arranged for a guitar ensemble. The arrangement of "My Foolish Heart" is dedicated to Chick Corea, who McLaughlin sites as a source of his inspiration for over 30 years. The ensemble led by McLaughlin brings about a lush, yet precise performance of the Victor Young - Ned Washington classic. Luiz Eca’s "The Dolphin" which follows, is dedicated to Gonzalo Rubalcaba. As one may expect, the arrangement is filled with great Latin rhythms and modal melodies, and the ensemble again provides a rich, light, sound mass. "Stella By Starlight" dedicated to Herbie Hancock, is done as a down tempo ballad with wonderful contrapuntal lines weaving in and around the melody and in support of McLaughlin’s improvisations. A more medium tempo version of Rodgers and Hart’s "My Romance" dedicated to Bill Evans, serves as an upbeat conclusion to this CD. McLaughlin and company serve well emulating the romantic side of the late pianist.
This recording is a wonderful collection of music that would be an excellent addition to anyone’s jazz CD collection. It will be of particular interest to guitarists, as McLaughlin presents a virtual clinic on how the modern acoustic guitar should be played. For McLaughlin fans, it is an indispensable must have.