DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit we’re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readers’ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.
By 1970, rock had infiltrated the jazz world pretty rampantly, the overwhelming global cultural dominance of rock seeping into jazz both as an influence or as a force for the genre to define itself against, evident in the hard-nosed bop of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the high-minded later work of Duke Ellington and other members of the old guard but equally prominent in the befuzzed jamming of Miles Davis and much of the Atlantic Records jazz roster at the time. However, the marriage of jazz chops and rock thinking rarely achieved such sublimely heady fruition as John McLaughlin third solo album, Devotion (1970), where the psychedelic revolution runs headlong into serious musical muscle and sincere spiritual attitude.
With Haight-Ashbury-esque song titles like “Don’t Let The Dragon Eat Your Mother,” “Purpose of When” and “Marbles,” Devotion is unabashedly cosmic, an Electric Kool-Aid ambience prevailing as these top drawer musicians jettison norms and explore with impunity and groove consciousness. McLaughlin is joined by Band of Gypsies drummer Buddy Miles, bassist Billy Rich (who was invited to play with Gypsies and later played with Taj Mahal and Paul Butterfield) and organ/electric piano player Larry Young, who make an intense, strangely beautiful racket together. It’s the kind of music that can induce involuntary flashbacks in acid aficionados, the world both more colorful and a touch more menacing as one swims in this sound.
That some of Hendrix’s last recordings include Young and carry echoes of this set is little surprise. Despite his demigod status now, Jimi Hendrix was very aware of the other major players on his instrument, expressing his admiration for folks ranging from Buddy Guy to McLaughlin to Chicago’s still-under-appreciated Terry Kath (legend has it that after seeing Chicago Transit Authority Jimi remarked to the band, “You know your guitar player is better than me, right?”). Devotion, with its blend of tradition and tradition-breaking, represents one of the trails Hendrix would likely have blazed if he’d survived. As it was, he passed away the same month as this record was released, and neither he nor McLaughlin ever ventured very far down this intriguing path. Still, there is the electricity and crashing invention of Devotion to stimulate our earholes and imaginations.