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ALBUM REVIEWS : A Heartfelt Homage to Coltrane

October 29, 1995|Leonard Reed

JOHN McLAUGHLIN

"After the Rain"

Verve

* * *

"After the Rain" is a trio recording that does double duty as homage to John Coltrane and context for McLaughlin's singular guitar vocabulary of lightning gossamer runs, dark chordal shadings, jagged and dense melodic lines and long, echoey silences. He has done the homage thing before--his "Time Remembered" recording celebrated the elegant pianist Bill Evans, and "Unity" bowed to the late and understated organist Larry Young.

But this one sounds closer to McLaughlin's musical heart. He is teamed with Elvin Jones, a firestorm as his own bandleader and polyrhythmic timekeeper as drummer in Coltrane's classic quartet of the early '60s, and Joey DeFrancesco, a young organist whose arrival on the jazz scene in the '80s was marked by flamboyance and here shows a restraint to match his obvious talent.

There are a few non-Coltrane tunes, notable among them Carla Bley's "Sing Me Softly of the Blues," in a molasses-slow treatment driven by DeFrancesco's deft bass line and Jones' sly whole-note strikes of the ride cymbal. But it is the Coltrane standards that give this CD its fecund, improvisational center, with the sole exception an "Afro Blue" bleached clean by too much sweetness.

Nothing surpasses the title tune, among Coltrane's most spiritual of compositions. McLaughlin brings much of what he is--from his Miles Davis "Bitches Brew" edge to his Sri Chinmoy contemplative devotions--to bear. In a complex, poignant arrangement that goes from darkness to light, Jones' massive, orchestral drumming surges forward and pulls back while McLaughlin moves within the melody and outside it, coloring and shading, using lone notes and thick chords to reach for the possible.

McLaughlin is never in a rush. That is a lucky thing. The ineffable mystery of these classic works invites ruminative playing, and who among guitarists but McLaughlin would ably take them out so far?

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

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