CD Review – John McLaughlin – Liberation Time

John McLaughlin has been at the pinnacle of progressive music from some time now. At the core he is a wonderful jazz guitarist, he has technical brilliance combined with melodic, harmonic sophistication and a fantastic speed of playing that has graced enumerable recordings over the years. John has had great landmarks in his career. He worked with the legendary Miles Davis in his electric band, helping to create such scorching jazz-fusion classics as In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, and On The Corner before creating his own spectacularly virtuosic band The Mahavishnu Orchestra, whose work melded jazz, rock and Indian music in some incendiary music. After this band broke down, he founded Shakti, an Indo-fusion that essentially blended jazz guitar with Indian instruments and stylings, finding a welcoming audience. Over the years he created various combinations of players, shorter lived bands such as One Truth Band and latterly The 4th Dimension. He has also collaborated with a number of musicians too, including some brilliant releases with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía. He has maintained a steady flow of solo albums. His music is always highly imaginative and creative, and he is rightly considered as a pioneer in a number of genres of music.  His style if fluid, fast and often furious but also very spiritual. His eclecticism, virtuosity, and colourfulness has attracted elements of the progressive rock fraternity over the years, especially The Mahavishnu Orchestra releases. Jeff Beck considers him to be the best living guitarist.

Liberation Time is John’s response to the spiritual, social and emotional cost of the world finding itself in the Covid induced lockdown. It is a spectre that is being challenged by many artists. This album is a balanced reflection on both the dangers, insecurity, and hazards caused by the imposition of lockdowns that have affected so many in the world and the quiescent potential that is also produced by it. In the autumn of 2020, with lockdown being a restrictive and frustrating presence, John began work on the album. “The result,” he explains, “was an explosion of music in my mind.” John found that isolation of working also meant that he didn’t have to work with a fixed group of musicians, and he has invited several to guest with him. He was able to select what he thought to be the most appropriate musician for each composition. As John explains: “That is a choice that can only be made correctly if you know how the musicians play. Not just how well they play technically, but how they play intuitively. Only then can you make the right decisions.”

John creates a devastating impact from the outset on this release. As The Spirit Sings is a lofty, busy affair, whereas Lockdown Blues is a more reflective, tender tune. Throughout John provides us with often coruscating reminders of his very best music. The closing title track, Liberation Time, is a furious, frenetic tune where he lets rip with some of his most crazed masterful lines. The bluster is paced though, for all the frenzy there are subtle and nuanced sections too. For the first time on record since the early 1970’s John also plays some piano, on Mila Repa and Shade Of Blue. Right Here, Right Now, Right On is as fine a piece of hard-bop as you are likely to hear.

The musical guests all provide sterling performances. It seems churlish to pick out individuals but Étienne M’Bappé’s frenetic bass playing on Lockdown Blues really catches the attention, while Ranjit Barot’s konokol vocals, a rhythmic, percussive form of vocalisation in south Indian Carnatic music, is quite superb. But all of the musicians’ contributions are of the highest quality.

This album is John McLaughlin at his very best. It is mournful but touching, powerful yet complex. There is a deep spiritual yearning balanced with a passionate embracing desire. The compositions are creative and spirited, and the delivery often sublime. It is a relatively short album at around thirty-five minutes, but it is an incredibly intense one. A joy to listen to.  

1. As the Spirit Sings (5:21)

2. Singing Our Secrets (5:05)

3. Lockdown Blues (7:13)

4. Mila Repa (2:28)

5. Right Here, Right Now, Right On (7:22)

6. Shade of Blue (1:37)

7. Liberation Time (7:49)

John McLaughlin – guitar, guitar synth, piano


Roger Rossignol – piano

Ranjit Barot – drums, konokol vocals

Jean-Michel ‘Kiki’ Aublette – drums, bass

Vinnie Colaiuta – drums

Nicolas Viccaro – drums

Julian Siegel – tenor saxophone

Étienne M’Bappé – bass

Gary Husband – drums, piano

Sam Burgess – bass

Jérôme Regard – bass

Oz Ezzeldin / piano

Release date: 16th July 2021

Label: Abstract Logix

Available as: CD, LP, Digital

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