By Mike Greenblatt
Guitar hero John McLaughlin is touring the states again in support of his brilliant new album "Now Here This" (AbstractLogix), his most ferociously biting adventure in 42 years (since "The Inner Mounting Flame" with The Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971).
The band is his 4th Dimension, and it’s a monster: Gary Husband on piano, synthesizer and drums; drummer Ranjit Barot; and Etienne M’Bappe on fretless and electric bass. McLaughlin, as usual, dominates the proceedings on guitar and guitar-synth. The music is right up there with anything by Weather Report or Return To Forever. Live, they kill.
I chatted with John on the eve of the tour and asked him if his end result was hatched in a test-tube of ideas or evolved organically in the studio.
“Thanks for the kind words, Mike. It's the first time I see 'ferocious' as a compliment! Regarding your question: I never have preconceived ideas about my recordings. It's the music which gives the direction. Even the 'To The One' CD, which had a reference to my first experience of listening to Coltrane so many years ago, was also directed by the music. In addition, I'm not the kind of composer who can sit down and write music. I have to wait for the music to arrive in my imagination before I can do anything. Once it's there, it lets me know which way it needs to go. The pieces of music in 'Now Here This' all belong to this category. Basically, I just wait for it to arrive, and it can at any moment. Under the shower, in a plane, anywhere, so I need to be ready to note it down or sing it into my iPhone which has a cute app that records voice. It has happened during a meal in a restaurant with friends, and then I have to write it down quickly.
“I'm just happy you enjoy the music,” he continues, obviously pleased. “Now while the compositions are from me, the members of the band contribute in many ways. First of all, with their wonderful musicianship, but also with their imagination and heart. When arranging the pieces for recording, I always create space where the different players have the opportunity to be completely themselves in improvisation. This is one of the greatest aspects of jazz music; the possibility of an experience of individual liberty, and also an experience of collective freedom in music. When these experiences happen, they are communicated through the music to the audience who can then participate in the experience.”
So where does McLaughlin see the new album fitting into his mammoth body of work?
“That's a tough question, because I like all my recordings, even though retrospectively I see faults in them. What I did notice about the music on 'Now Here This' from the very first, was that some of it could be right out of the Mahavishnu book. So your comment about putting it next to 'The Inner Mounting Flame' is fine with me.”
Later this summer, McLaughlin will be releasing a DVD of a 2011 show he did with Carlos Santana in Switzerland.
“It was a real reunion for the two of us and a great night," he said.
As far as this tour is concerned, McLaughlin fans can expect to hear tracks from the new album, “but also music from previous recordings back to Mahavishnu. We have an extensive repertory, and this band is outstanding as players and as people. There’s a special unity and complicity in the band that comes through the music.”
McLaughlin's schedule tour dates, venues and cities are:
June 13: The Orange Peel, Asheville, N.C.
June 14: Bonnaroo Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
June 16: The Howard DC Jazz Festival, Washington, DC
June 17: MusikFest Café, Bethlehem, Pa.
June 18, 19 and 20 : Blue Note Club (two sets each night), New York.
June 22: Berklee Performance Center, Boston.
June 23: Toronto Jazz Festival, Toronto.