(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
In that magical, turbulent year of 1969, yet another musical tempest was brewing. A young, unassuming Scot by the name of John McLaughlin (residing in London at the time) was going about his business, namely that of finding his unique musical voice and presenting it to an open-minded audience. Combining the most important musical influences of his childhood (bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, flamenco music, Miles Davis, Ludwig Von Beethoven and jazz guitarist Tal Farlow) and the more recent explorations of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, the young Johnny Mac dropped jaws everywhere he played (having already logged in stints in the studios and with R&B veteran Georgie Fame and organist Brian Auger). John’s career after the release of this adventurous and groundbreaking debut disc was about to take off, thanks to one Dave Holland with whom he shared an apartment in London at the time.
Here, John teams up with some of the most inventive and fiery young (at the time) jazz musicians in Britain, Tony Oxley on drums, Brian Odges on upright bass (recommended by Dave Holland when he couldn't make the sessions due to some commitments with Miles Davis) and John’s perfect melodic foil, one John Surman alternating between plaintive, lyrical soprano and growly baritone saxes.
The opening title cut grabs your ears with a twisty, bluesy melody that both Surman and McLaughlin play with great confidence and authority. Abruptly shifting gears into free blowing, the whole band then miraculously lands on the turnaround with Surman happily growling away like a ridiculously hip jazz-educated bear. McLaughlin starts to develop his unique guitar style here with a warm fruity almost archtop like tone with a bit of an edge. This would later give way to his thick slicing, searing tone with Lifetime and Mahavishnu later. “It’s Funny” captures McLaughlin’s more pensive, reflective side, then giving way to “Arjen’s Bag” (later retitled “Follow Your Heart”) on which John gives lots of room to John Surman’s growly baritone. From here, an effortless segue takes place into the lively “Pete The Poet” featuring exchanges between drummer Oxley and the rest of the band. “This Is For Us To Share” is a beautiful, by turns pensive then dramatic piece that shows the young Johnny Mac’s developing compositional flair again, giving John Surman tons of room to weave plaintive and gruff melodies on his baritone. “Spectrum” as presented here is a bit different than the Lifetime version that would follow just months later. Here, it still has the urgency but yet there is far more breathing space within, allowing the listener to digest its tricky obtuse melody line. “Binky’s Beam” unleashes flurries of flamenco inspired fury from McLaughlin as his bandmates lay out for a short period of time to let him rip before coming back in. The brilliance continues on the bluesy “Really You Know” and “Two For Two” before winding down with the beautiful “Peace Piece”
Summed up, the young Johnny Mac managed to find a magical middle ground of reckless experimentation and heartfelt melody and lyricism at the same time. Something that is rarely achieved and only with great difficulty and perseverance.
Another thing I find very appealing is the album's unadorned open live sound, no overdubs to speak of, just great honest playing and exploration very warmly and crisply recorded.
Some would've said, just a beginning, but WHAT A BEGINNING! This is absolutely essential listening and a wonderful document of John McLaughlin’s developing musical concepts that would blossom even further with Tony Williams and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Grab this!