Picks and Pans Review: Tokyo Live

updated 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Free Spirits, featuring John McLaughlin

The real news here isn't McLaughlin, the founder of fusion guitar, plugging in after a six-year acoustic spell. It's Dennis Chambers, a multi-style virtuoso and arguably the best drummer in the world right now. Others may swing more buoyantly—Chambers, who spent years stoking the furnace in George Clinton's P-Funk, plays brutally hard—but few, if any, have Chambers's inexhaustible imagination. He's got a touch of genius.

Though McLaughlin's playing is as impeccable as ever, he's no longer the '70s spitfire whose Maha-vishnu Orchestra shattered genres (and eardrums) worldwide. He's almost subdued here, witty and melodic, an urbane jazz romantic. Evidently content to lay back and let Chambers shine, he rides the drummer's beat like a sandpiper on a tsunami.

Rounding out this trio is 21-year-old organist Joey deFranccsco. Basically, the kid's buried; company like this is too fast for mere adolescents. (Verve)"

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