John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, and Tony Williams - Trio of Doom

John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, and Tony Williams
Trio of Doom


First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2007, Volume 14, #10

Written by Douglas Heselgrave

Wed October 10, 2007, 05:00 AM CDT


After taking Trio of Doom out of its case and slipping it into my Discman, I prepared myself to be assaulted by what I imagined would be shrieking runs of notes and scales that were played at lightning speed, thus rendering me breathless and making me lurch for the eject button. This is not an auspicious presupposition, to be sure! The unjustly accused — John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, and Tony Williams — have made, both individually and collectively, some of the most beautiful and challenging works to emerge from the jazz-fusion era of the 1970s. At the same time, however, they are guilty of producing music that is indulgent, overwrought, and almost unlistenable.

During the spring of 1979, McLaughlin, Pastorius, and Williams’ jazz supergroup — which Pastorius had dubbed Trio of Doom — convened to play at a summit in Havana, Cuba that was sponsored by the U.S. government. Considering that the three artists had little time to rehearse — or perhaps because of this — there was a certain amount of looseness and spaciousness to the proceedings that allowed each individual member to shine and show their improvisational abilities in the best possible light. Over the course of a five-song, 25-minute program, the collective explored a variety of moods and expressions that encompassed everything from acid rock to free jazz.

Throughout Trio of Doom, which comes 30 years after its original conception, the musicians are outstanding: John McLaughlin’s screeching guitar rarely has sounded so muscular and assured, and Tony Williams’ drums drove each composition to a higher level. In between them, Pastorius’ bass wove and cajoled the melodies, melding the disparate elements of each piece into a deeply satisfying whole. Both Continuum, a deceptively gentle contribution from Pastorius, and the wild jam-band fury of McLaughlin’s Are You the One, Are You the One? are particularly outstanding.

Two of the live tracks from Trio of Doom were released previously on the Columbia compilation Havana Jam, which was issued to commemorate what McLaughlin jokingly called in his liner notes the "Bay of Gigs." The rest of the concert cuts — as well as the studio versions of all five of the compositions included in the set — have not seen the light of day until now. Fans and collectors will enjoy comparing and arguing about the different renditions of the songs, and Columbia should be commended for having the foresight to include them in this archival collection. Although the studio versions have a certain polish and compositional resolution to them, the live cuts are the real reason to purchase Trio of Doom. They have a level of freshness and vitality that highlights each player’s ability to think on his feet as the musicians extend and complement the various themes and assertions that are introduced. Thankfully, these explorations were captured on tape and preserved by a forward-thinking producer.

The passage of time combined with the sad fact that neither Pastorius nor Williams is alive to make new music means that Trio of Doom must be considered to be valuable. There’s no doubt that, at times, the material on this endeavor can be challenging and intimidating. Ultimately, however, Trio of Doom is an essential outing because it provides a snapshot of a never-to-be-repeated summit among three of the greatest minds of jazz from the 1970s. starstarstarstar

Trio of Doom is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2007 The Music Box