John McLaughlin – Devotion (PIP, 1970)

Caught in a pocket of time between sojourns in Miles Davis’ fusion groups and the towering presence of Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin’s Devotion is a pivotal instrumental work.  It is also a snapshot of the lyrical guitarist at his most raw and unadulterated.  The sunny idealism of the Summer of Love had soured into something more sinister and heavy by this time, and it shows in the prescient licks of this talented session guitarist and expert arranger, with a little bit more sweat and blood than usual.  McLaughlin has never had a heavier hand independently before the Devotion sessions, which occasionally elevate the composer and his crack team of musicians to heights later occupied by Mahavishnu.  While the latter perfected the push-pull of deft improvisation and beautifully ornate song structure, Devotion is a firm fist in the face that only incites the listener.  McLaughlin is coruscating here, and it may be hard to imagine that the rhythmic guitarist of Shakti—McLaughlin’s later Eastern spirituality-driven acoustic side project—could be capable of the horizontal dirge of “Devotion” and “Don’t Let the Dragon Eat Your Mother”, but there was a time when this multifaceted guitar instrumentalist had it in him.

Vincent Zed

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