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JAZZ SPOTLIGHT

THE FREE SPIRITS FEATURING JOHN McLAUGHLIN

“Tokyo Live”

Verve

* * * 1/2

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McLaughlin’s career has been a style-busting exploration through a colorful array of different musical forms. But he always has been at his best--as he is here--in a small group format, blending in near-symbiotic fashion with players who push the envelope of his skills.

There are no dull moments in this brilliant collaboration between the guitarist, organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Dennis Chambers.

The album, recorded live at the Blue Note jazz club in Tokyo, roves adventurously from the blues groove of “1 Nite Stand” and the funk rhythms of “Little Miss Valley” to the dark, Latin contrasts of “Mattinale” and the hard swing of Miles Davis’ “No Blues” (the only piece not composed by McLaughlin).

The performances are superb, filled with the intuitive interaction one expects from groups that have spent years together. The soloing is constantly provocative, and exceptionally so in DeFrancesco’s heroic outing on “Hijacked,” McLaughlin’s rapid-fire note-blurring on “Mattinale” and Chambers’ powerful, but always thoughtful percussive ramble through “Vukovar.”

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As an added fillip, DeFrancesco plays trumpet on a couple of tracks in a manner that effectively recalls Davis’ finest work. It provides the final capper for an album that is, thus far, one of the finest jazz releases of the year.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended), four stars (excellent).


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