Not a McLaughlin matter worth overanalyzing, simply a septet of songs in various permutations. The idea here seems to be to show off the guitarist’s range, from Mahavishnu to Santavishnu to contentious energy-lord of the avant garde. Interesting but rarely arresting, Johnny McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist doesn’t belong at the top of John’s resume. I’ll concede that “Friendship” delivers where Love Devotion Surrender didn’t, finding middle ground between the styles of McLaughlin and Santana, and the dreamy “Every Tear From Every Eye” conjures butterflies. But the rest of the record is a little too loose and jammy, from the drum-guitar boxing match of “Phenomenon: Compulsion” to the aimless funk of “Are You The One? Are You The One?” While it covers a lot of ground, spectacular scenery is scarce. A Mahavishnu reunion of sorts (“New York On My Mind”) arrives at the same attainable height as Jean-Luc Ponty’s early also-rans, a session with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke is standoffishly notey. McLaughlin’s tripping bursts of guitar notes are technically impressive, though he only generates warmth by turning off the fireworks display for “My Foolish Heart.” The track placement seems to suggest a predestined course, stripping away layers until the irreducible is left. If it’s not the guitar workshop some hoped for, drummers won’t be disappointed: Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams are their usual awe-inspiring selves. Fine cameos from Patrice Rushen, Jerry Goodman and Jack Bruce further underscore the who’s who lineup on this all-star assembly. But great musicians don’t automatically equate to great music, at least not here. Perhaps he should have retitled this Johnny McLaughlin, Eclectic Guitarist.
Kronomyth 29.0: FUNKENSTEINOWITZ. Monster is another of Herbie Hancock’s funk/disco albums. This would usually be where I begin to denigrate disco as an inferior medium for a man of his stature, but I gots a booty like everybody and sometimes it needs a good shaking. Most of the Miles contingent sacrificed a few albums to the gods of the dance, and few of them are done better than Monster. Hancock assembled an impressive arsenal of electronic keyboards, including one of the earliest appearances of the Clavitar (a combination keyboard/guitar, which you can hear put to good use on “Don’t Hold It In”). The album is also notable for appearances by Carlos Santana and Santana vocalist Greg Walker. Every track on Monster has vocals (Hancock mercifully keeps to his keys), with guests Bill Champlin, Gavin Christopher and a returning Oren Waters each taking a turn. The rest of the band is pretty much a pick-up from his last (Sheila Escovedo, Wah Wah Watson, Freddie Washington, Ray Parker Jr.) with the new addition of Alphonse Mouzon on drums. While the album was a commercial success (half of its songs were issued as singles), there are some who would tell you that Monster is merely commercial product (in fact, I used to be one of those people). Yet the truth is that anything made out of plastic with a universal price code is product. Hancock’s interest in disco, funk and rock is legitimate, and Monster has a lot to offer musically, from the Latin crossover of “Saturday Night” (reminiscent of Chick Corea) to the intelligent funk of “Go For It” (which anticipates acts like Was Not Was). It’s obviously not the first Herbie Hancock album you need to own, but don’t let those jazz snobs scare you away from Monster. If you’re interested in hearing Hancock in a disco/funk/rock setting with vocals and guitars (and the clavitar), go for it.
Kronomyth 9.0: STANLEY DEE IS FOR DISCO. This is one book you can judge by its cover. Let Me Know You is Stanley Clarke’s first full-time foray into disco music, and while the Chick Corea-styled costume changes have been interesting to date, not so Know. To his credit, Clarke does a very passable job of singing these songs, it’s just a shame he didn’t give himself something better to sing. For example: “My girl, sophisticated is her name / Woh-oh-oh / Yea! She’s a lady.” That’s from the opening song, “Straight To The Top,” and it’s downhill from there. With its undercurrent of funk, LMKY sometimes sounds like an imitation of Prince, but you won’t find anything revolutionary at work here. Only the closing “New York City” (which namechecks Miles Davis) reflects the mind of a serious artist; otherwise, Clarke seems content to throw his hat into the romantic R&B ring without so much as a passing nod to his old jazz-rock roots. As with Herbie Hancock and other jazz artists in the 80s, Clarke’s disco is a cut above the competition in terms of musicianship. Carlos Santana (who appeared on Hancock’s equally misshapen Monster) kicks in a quick pair of guitar solos, while Denzil Miller leads a large cast that includes some familiar faces (Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, Paulinho Da Costa, Marcy Levy, Greg Phillinganes). If you see disco as a legitimate medium for music (and I’m not saying you shouldn’t), Clarke serves it up medium well on Let Me Know You. If, however, disco doesn’t ring your bell, you can wait to make the acquaintance of this album until some dull and distant day.