The Aighetta Quartet.
How do I even pronounce that?
Oh, this is even better…Wait for it…Wait for it…WAIT FOR IT
I Pommeriggi Musicali di Milano.
Okay, fine…You got me, it was all shift-8 that time.
But for all my refined cosmopolitanality (hell yeah Google says it’s a word), my mind struggles under the weight of all the damned vowels in the names of the two groups featured on John McLaughlin’s orchestral (I Pommeriggi Musicali di Milano) and acoustic guitar (The Aighetta Quartet) album (A short note: the Aighetta Quartet are also featured on the orchestral suite!).
However, the profound musical grace and spiritual wonder found in this rather short album (44 minutes!) make up for all those damned Euro syllables burdened with all those damned Euro vowels.
In the Thieves & Poets orchestral suite, John McLaughlin unleashes a side of him that is rarely seen: his harmonic/composition/arranging side. He was always known to be an incredible soloist and improviser of melodies (and all of that is completely featured in the suite as usual), but his approach to composition and harmonic movement is simply mindblowing. Of course, the rhythmic structures that he was made infamous for in the Mahavishnu Orchestra (over thirty years ago!) and which continued to be such a strong aspect of his compositions and solos are in full force here as well. The more attentive listener should also be able to hear the various references to his favourite songs (various Shakti tunes are alluded to at several points) and other composers (Bernstein, Stravinsky, and Mingus) are all hinted at.
This is McLaughlin’s third orchestral album and the first one in fifteen years (The Mediterranean Concerto
was released in 1988). Both The Mediterranean
concerto and Thieves & Poets
suite are in three parts, but the similarities end there. The Mediterranean
is much more “mainstream" and “easy listening" in terms of harmonies, melodies, rhythms, and arranging while Thieves & Poets
requires a lot more critical attention and listening. The Mediterranean
also focuses much more on well, music of the Mediterranean so there is a lot of flamenco flavors and classical composition compared to Thieves & Poets
. Thieves & Poets is much harder to classify. There are a lot more neoclassical and Indian classical tendencies in the suite, yet the listener can never seem to escape the unique style of jazz that McLaughlin has masterfully pioneered throughout the decades.
With the four jazz piano standards (My Foolish Heart for Chick Corea, The Dolphin for Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Stella By Starlight for Herbie Hancock, and My Romance to Bill Evans), there is a completely different atmosphere going on. With the orchestra gone and with only five acoustic guitars (and one acoustic bass) present, there is definitely a much more intimate setting with these standards. The format is extremely similar to another one of John McLaughlin’s albums, Time Remembered
. Both emulate a jazz piano with just guitars and a bass. And on both, the pieces sound absolutely beautiful.
Of course, furious playing and meditative relaxation are not mutually exclusive to either the orchestral suite or the four piano standards. There are plenty of “woah…how did he do that?!" moments on the piano standards and just as many “where’s my luxurious fireplace and bottle of prohibitively expensive and aged wine, damn it!?!??" instances as well in the orchestral suite.
If you have a decent surround sound system, this is one of those albums which will truly make you stop and think why so many can still with two dinky speakers.
You see, even though the first three tracks and the other four of the album are wildly different (the first three is the three-part orchestral & acoustic guitars suite and the second half is just purely with the Aighetta Quartet), your ears will thank you no matter what track you are on. Whether you are listening to frantic, layered, yet completely controlled fury of John and the Pomegranate Italian Orchestra or the peaceful meditative nature of just five guys on guitar (and an additional guy on bass), this album will completely envelop you with absolute gorgeousness in the form of sound.
The paradoxical musical dichotomy of this album (dozens of timbres playing so many harmonies, melodies, and rhythms in the first three tracks vs. six musicians playing together just to emulate a single piano) brings me back to an obscure statement found in the extremely famous and tremendously admired Routh’s Treatise On Everything Ever
A vessel is still a vessel regardless of what may or may not be contained in it. In the same manner, an unquantifiable characteristic found in a seemingly paradoxical dichotomy will lend exceedingly similar emergent qualities to both sides of such a dichotomy.
Pure genius as always, Routh…
(I tried inputting this album into the RAPRA (Routh Anthrosemantic Percentile/Ratio Approximation
), but the damned Euro names completely broke it...