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March 1998

John McLaughlin
The Heart of Things
Verve

McLaughlin's latest retains two-thirds of The Promise's rhythm section-pianist Jim Beard and drummer Dennis Chambers-but adds tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas, electric bassist Matthew Garrison (the son of Jimmy Garrison) and percussionist Victor Williams. With McLaughlin wielding electric guitar for the most part (he also uses MIDI guitar and acoustic), the sleek yet powerful percussion-driven sound and synth underpinning strongly demonstrate that he still has plenty to say in a high-energy setting.

All five of the compositions are originals; however, the music itself is hardly a one-man effort, with each member playing a key role. On "Acid Jazz"-generally leagues beyond its less sophisticated namesake in terms of refinement-McLaughlin brings things to a conclusion with a technically transcendent solo that bristles with long, fluid lines. Thomas and McLaughlin eloquently trade ideas near the beginning of "Seven Sisters;" later on they engage in a virtuosic exchange that finds them spontaneously keying off of each other's phrases and sublimely intermingling their respective voices-an event that in itself is worth the price of admission. With its subtle synth backdrop, the closer, "When Love Is Far Away," is an atmospheric acoustic guitar workout that contrasts subdued chordal episodes with stunning single-note displays.

While the word fusion may be too loaded to use here, The Heart of Things features masterful musicianship and brilliant execution-universal qualities that transcend style.

Originally published in March 1998
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