I think we all look for auspicious signs around the time of the New Year–signs of good fortune to come, signs of disasters to avoid, signs of hope. Indeed, there are many rituals from many cultures intended to tilt the cosmic game in one’s own favor. For the start of 2011, I did nothing more profound nor bizarre than to turn my radio dial to 91.5 WUNC as I drove down to Pittsboro to check on the latest progress of my construction project. Suddenly I found myself listening in on a conversation with John McLaughlin about spirituality in music. Having seen John and his band play in Raleigh just a few months ago at the Lincoln Theater, hearing him talk about A Love Supreme was like music to my ears. And I’m still jazzing strong about his latest release, To The One, which was nominated for a Grammy award last year, and which totally deserves to win it this year.
If you are reading past the break, it means that you, too, are a fan. Welcome to the club!
I do not pretend to be a learned music critic, but for myself and for fun, here are my reflections on what makes To The One a great album:
- It is fun to listen to. I love how “The Fine Line” puts a hard-driving rock progression into a 7-beat rhythm, and then sprinkles it with John’s blue/green riffs.
- It is interesting to listen to. I love how “Lost and Found” teases the listener with back beats appearing and disappearing in alternating bars of 11. It is rare enough to hear a beat accented on the 7, but more rare still to be expecting that beat and then to notice its total absence.
- It is thrilling to listen to. The opening track “Discovery” is effervescent, optimistic John all the way. It exemplifies melody born of rhythm, and it is played to perfection. Track 5, “Recovery” rips through its hard-driving changes like a roller-coaster ride.
- It is fulfilling to listen to. “Special Beings” plays like a love song to all that is wonderful about being human. It speaks to the Joy that the creator must feel about all creation.
- It is satisfying to listen to. “To The One” embodies John’s unique modal-melodic sense. By that I mean John can play a scale (mode) and it sounds like a melody. And from his melodies derive scales that sound uniquely his, even though scales are universal, and can be played by any of us. Nevertheless, To The One is a perfect study of the “One”–the musical still-point of the turning world.
I am so glad that John continues to bless us with his music, and that he continues to challenge us with ideas new and old which keep us always thinking, always mindful, always being.
Happy New Year!