John McLaughlin: The Heart of Things

New live recording by the great guitarist John McLaughlin packs an artful wallop in a post-fusion direction on The Heart of Things album.

Listening to recent reissues of McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra albums, such as Birds of Fire, there was a fiery angularity born of youthful intensity, now mellowed-at least somewhat-into a maturity in his writing, as with the Zawinulesque ballad “Fallen Angels” on The Heart of Things. Still, McLaughlin hasn’t gone smooth and favors edgy harmony, fast skittering runs and the excitement of live, plugged-in jazz.

The Heart of Things group is a band of blowers without apology, and each gets a chance to show his stuff, including the mightily dexterous bassist Matthew Garrison and the reckoning force that is Dennis Chambers (who gets his stretching-and meter-stretching-moment in “Tony”). McLaughlin has a good foil in the sentimentality-resistant saxist Gary Thomas, whose own tune, “The Divide,” has an edgy M-BASEish quality that suggests the logical link between ’70s fusion and late ’80s Brooklyn jazz-funk.

McLaughlin himself dispenses plenty of notes-per-measure velocity, as heard on the feisty, 16th-note parade during his riff-swapping with keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz on “Mother Tongues” or the wonderfully over the top tete a tete with drummer Chambers at the end of “Acid Jazz.” That tune closes the set, and it has less to do with the jam-happy subgenre of the title than the acid-rock extremism of Hendrix, whose favored #9 chord McLaughlin riffs off with a mad ring-modulated texture on the coda. It’s worth the price of admission here. You wont hear [this] [album] on the narrow-casted airwaves of jazz radio, but make no mistake: [It] affirms the fact that McLaughlin remains on of our greatest living guitarists. As Miles said, “Go ahead, John.”