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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 7:34 pm | Fair 56º


Paul Mann: A Blast from the Past Reawakens Memories

John McLaughlin leads his Five Peace Band ... and the years roll away

A cold, wet mist descended on the bleachers at the Seminole Turf Club in Casselberry, Fla., on the night of Nov. 23, 1973. This horse track, located in a remote, rural (at the time), north-central Florida town, featured an antiquated Florida betting game. Jockeys would race horses in a trotting mode, riding in attached small carriages. On rare occasions, the owners would turn over the track to hippy promoters to stage rock concerts. I had traveled to the venue, as a chemically altered high school student, to watch a mysterious new rock guitar god known as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. It was at the height of eastern influence on pop culture, and this musical speed demon had embraced the teachings of guru Sri Chinmoy.

As a high school student in the early 1970s, my perception of the best rock music was heavily influenced by the speed and dexterity of the musicians. Bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin, carried the torch for the recently deceased godfather of speed, Jimi Hendrix. My limited music knowledge at the time had me placing McLaughlin in the same category.

My fuzzy, faded memories of the concert included an opening set, by Papa John Creach, legendary violin player for ‘60s rock icons Jefferson Airplane. He was followed by Rod Argent’s new band Argent. Already famous as the former keyboard and guitar player of The Zombies, he was touring to support his new hit album that included the popular rock anthems “Hold Your Head Up” and “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You.”

As the evening wore on, a particularly cold, early winter wind blew away the cold mist, revealing a crystal night sky, just as Mahavishnu Orchestra appeared on stage. Before they began to play, McLaughlin stepped forward adorned in the traditional eastern robes of a guru. He asked for a period of silent meditation, and stood there stoically, his garments blowing in the stiff wind for what seemed like an endless moment of time. Strangely enough, I saw nearly the identical scene repeated, a year later, at Tampa stadium, by Carlos Santana, who was touring in support of his Caravanserai album. The album and subsequent “meditation” phase of Santana’s career, was the result of meeting and working with McLaughlin. The two ended up recording an album together, Love Devotion Surrender.

Vinnie Colaiuta tears it up on the drums.
Vinnie Colaiuta tears it up on the drums. (L. Paul Mann photo)

Suddenly, McLaughlin began to play his trademark double-necked guitar. (I had seen Jimmy Page play one with Led Zeppelin the year before, so I was instantly impressed with the vision). His shrill guitar began to pierce the night air and the Mahavishnu Orchestra exploded in a cacophony of sound. Although I was aware of being overwhelmed by this masterful band of speed demons, I had no idea I was witnessing the birth of jazz fusion music, with influences from rock, jazz, blues, eastern music, an even some classical references. I just knew the band shredded.

Fast forward 36 years, to March 20, 2009 at UCSB’s Campbell Hall, for a concert by the Five Peace Band. It was the last in the winter series of shows, presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures. It was only my second McLaughlin concert ever. Chick Corea assembled a group of legendary jazz fusion speed demons and then presented the idea of a five-piece band to McLaughlin. Embracing this new super group, the band has been touring extensively. Suffice to say that there was a moment during the performance, when all of the musicians were playing at the same time, at breakneck speed. It was in a middle of a long jam named Senor C.S., a tribute to Santana, that I had a flashback to that cold Florida night and my inadvertent introduction to live jazz music.

Click here for Jeff Moehlis’ Noozhawk review of Friday’s concert. Click here for more information on the UCSB Arts & Lectures series and its spring schedule.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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