John McLaughlin, London, Saturday: virtuoso jazz guitar

Rounding off a month-long Euro tour to promote Floating Point, the new CD, John McLaughlin played a sell-out gig at London’s Barbican on Saturday.  For over two and a half hours, his band, The Fourth Dimension, revisited McLaughlin’s back pages and introduced some recent sounds.

 

It was an outstanding gig – one for the scrapbook.  The standing ovation was the only possible response.

 

As hoped, the leader’s picking ranged between divine and tumultuous.  Technical brilliance and jaw-dropping agility, allied to endless innovation and a beautiful tone, made this an electric guitar master-class.  There might be a stronger contender for the title of world’s leading guitarist, but I don’t know of one.

 

Jazz-fusion is a collaborative enterprise, though, and McLaughlin was well served by a trio of master musicians.  An inspired Mark Mondesir kept the groove going all night.  Gary Husband, doubling up on keyboards and second drums, and up for it from the off, should be paid twice for this gig.  Stand-in bassist Dominique Di Piazza anchored the riffing with firmness and finesse.

 

Highlight?  In addition to McLaughlin’s virtuosic melody lines, the finale featured a complex, heated percussive discussion between Mondesir and Husband, prompted, interrupted and encouraged by fills from the two guitarists.  Rhythm improvisation simply doesn’t get any better than this.  

 

Saturday’s London gig was one of those rare shows which moves you for days afterwards, inspiring you to investigate the musician’s back catalogue in its entirety.  Pleasures in store.         

 

Way back in the 1970s, I missed John McLaughlin the first time round.  Or, to be more accurate, I DIS-missed him.  Jazz-rock?  Naaah – far too grown-up for me.  Elton John, 10cc, Melanie …, mate.  I cringe at the memory of those wasted years.

 

More recently, I found McLaughlin via Miles Davis.  Not difficult for a Davis fan – John plays on no fewer than nine Miles albums, including fusion masterpieces In A Silent Way (my favourite album in all music), Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson.  Miles even named tracks after him on two different LPs.

 

I’ve been dutifully seeking out gigs and by the musicians who play on In A Silent Way.  Herbie Hancock?  Seen him.  Wayne Shorter?  Yep.  Dave Holland?  Sure.  Joe Zawinul.  Tick.  And now the great John McLaughlin.  Which leaves only Tony Williams and the Great Man himself.  I’m hoping to catch those two in Music Heaven.

 

Gerry Smith 

 

 

 

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