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John McLaughlin - Thieves And Poets CD (album) cover


John McLaughlin


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.22 | 25 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars The classical guitar has always been an undervalued instrument in most orchestral ensembles, but John McLaughlin does what he can to correct that bias in this 2003 album, presenting after many years of gestation his own mini-concerto for acoustic guitar and small orchestra.

But it's a lopsided effort in many ways. His three-part "Thieves and Poets" suite (the title is McLaughlin's benign interpretation of the artistic impulse) is clearly the highlight here, but at a mere 26+ minutes it wasn't long enough to fill an entire CD. So he added several shorter numbers, recorded alongside the Aighetta Quartet (a group of likeminded musicians from southern France), padding the disc to a still paltry total of only 44 minutes.

The suite itself is a tremendous achievement, but be forewarned: this isn't the fiery electric guitar hero of MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA fame. Instead, the album showcases a more mature and romantic side of McLaughlin's style (comparisons have been drawn elsewhere to the music of Gil Evans and Debussy), with his nimble, note-perfect technique supplemented by the players of I Pommeriggi Musicali di Milan. But even here there's a certain inorganic imbalance to the final mix, no doubt caused by the piecemeal nature of the recording. McLaughlin's guitar is crystal clear (as always), but parts of the overdubbed orchestra (in particular the brass) sound curiously flat and two-dimensional by comparison.

Still, the musicianship certainly can't be faulted, and some of the solo spots (for example the long violin passage in Part One) recall the Golden Age of classical / jazz / rock fusion in the 1970s.

The remaining four tracks, each one dedicated to one of McLaughlin's favorite keyboardists (Chick Corea, Bill Evans etc), probably can't help sounding like filler. But it's still exquisite filler, although the songs (jazz standards arranged for a small acoustic guitar ensemble) may be a little too mellow for ardent Progheads. Not only is it genuine Jazz, it's easily the softest, smoothest Jazz this side of a PBS broadcast.

For easy reference a comparison might be drawn to the occasional classical guitar work of STEVE HACKETT. But I think even the ex-Genesis legend would agree McLaughlin is in a different league altogether. He is and always has been a guitarist for connoisseurs, especially when unplugged, as he is here.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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