Saturday, February 11, 2012

Great Guitar Solos 1

Ever since I posted about Johnnie Mac's solo on the Mahavishnu's Orchestra's lovely Dawn - and followed up by listening to it three or four times in one day - I've had it running through my head as a kind of highly welcome ear-worm. Actually I've always been prone to ear-worms but thankfully they're nearly always snippets, or extended sections, of really fine music so it's not so much a curse as a blessing. If I tell you I once couldn't get the central segment of VW's The Lark Ascending out of my head for three months or so you'll appreciate what I'm getting at.

I suppose though I'm using the term solo in an extremely loose way here. Really I'm thinking of the whole guitar part, but with particular emphasis on the early segment around 1'25'' in when McLaughlin stops simply doubling the gorgeous violin line and starts developing increasingly, improbably faster and faster lines, until the whole shebang explodes around 2'30'' into a new descending melody for unison guitar and violin and the heart sings.

The first time I heard the track I loved the ensemble playing and the sort of soft rock segments - the closest the guys ever came to AOR - but couldn't quite grasp McLaughlin's playing. It sounded sort of wrong somehow, especially in the early part of the track, as if he were trying to blend in, but failing, the guitar line sounding slightly out in terms of the general timing. Although I was familiar with the sustain being used from Robert Fripp's playing with Crimson, which is why I suppose I keep talking about guitar lines rather than notes, I'd never encountered anything quite this spiky on music that otherwise seemed designed to be accessible. Listening now it just seems so utterly right I can't grasp why my teenage ears couldn't quite get round it all, initially at least.

Of course when McLaughlin plays fast it's astonishing in itself, but what I love about his playing is the way in which the speed is always there for a reason, is at the service of a greater cause. The sensation of sheer over-abundant joy that is created in the first half of Dawn that speed, the sense of something genuinely dawning, as it were, is extraordinary. Awesome in the real sense of that word.

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