John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension

City Recital Hall, October 8

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Husband, Barot, McLaughlin and Mbappe. Photo: John Bouchet.

The first time I heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra it was like being jolted by an electric shock – and that was just on the radio! Now, despite the years flying past, John McLaughlin looks about two decades younger than 73, and he remains one of those commendable artists who continues to search rather than resting on laurels.

The sheer velocity, noise and energy of the opening Panditji (for Ravi Shankar) proved that in the 4th Dimension McLaughlin has a band offering comparable shock value to the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It is also the project that most thoroughly unites the key strands of the guitarist’s long career: jazz-rock and Indian classical music, the latter primarily making itself felt in the rhythmic language.

To this end he has found the ideal drummer in Ranjit Barot, an Indian virtuoso to rival any of McLaughlin’s monster drummers from across the years. Etienne Mbappe is a similarly remarkable bassist (who plays in silk gloves to prevent sweat dulling his strings), and Gary Husband, a phenomenal asset, is equally expert at keyboards and drums.

Some of the night’s most thrilling music occurred when Husband moved to the second kit, which rather begged the question of why this did not happen more. It’s not as if this band prizes understatement or power held in reserve.

Pieces that began gently or lyrically routinely ended up with blizzards of notes hurtling at us with equal velocity and ferocity. In fact this tendency for climaxes to be similar regardless of context is a valid criticism. But that is the nature of the beast, and, taken on its own terms, when the collective foot was to the metal the energy levels were well into the red zone. They did back off enough, however, for lyrical bass and piano interludes, and to allow McLaughlin to play a simply gorgeous solo on Light At The Edge of the World. For old time’s sake they finished with the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s You Know You Know, and it has never sounded better.