Wednesday, February 05, 2014

John McLaughlin, "Devotion" (1970)

(listen)

The Devotion album does not sound like much of anything else in John McLaughlin's catalog. There are a couple of reasons for that: producer Alan Douglas (of the Douglas label, on which the album was originally released) mixed the sessions when McLaughlin was not around, and McLaughlin did not like the result. Douglas got in trouble again later for his work with various Jimi Hendrix tracks after Hendrix's death. But on that score what I know is that my favorite posthumous Hendrix album, Blues, gives Douglas a production credit. And Devotion is my favorite John McLaughlin album. So I guess Douglas has to be doing a few things right by me. I never cared for the Mahavishnu Orchestra albums; the only other project by McLaughlin I liked much was the collaboration with Carlos Santana. I liked his session work with Miles Davis very much, of course, probably more than any of his other work. This 11-minute lumbering slow-burn title song is as good an exhibit as any of the tilt of Devotion, with a classic rock band outfit playing it loose and dreamy. Drummer Buddy Miles (of Hendrix's Band of Gypsys) and bassist Billy Rich are the rhythm section, Larry Young plays a spooky organ, and McLaughlin is on an electric guitar that swivels between squalling and lyrical, sometimes getting them both at once. This is definitely the heavy stuff, with a bottom massive enough to bear its own gravity, a sluggish tempo, and ample room and atmosphere for strange noises to paint various pictures. All four feel totally involved: Rich's swelling bass patterns are often the most lovely thing here, Young's organ lines float at eye level, jagged, translucent, free floating, and McLaughlin's playing is deliberate yet with that sense of rhythm and texturing and anti-melody that is like few others, and was trail-blazing in its time. Let this one flatten you.

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