REVIEW: John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension at Ronnie Scott's

John Mclaughlin at Ronnie Scott's
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
(Ronnie Scott's; 14 March 2017 (second night); review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


This, the final concert of the European tour by John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension was extraordinary on several levels. Firstly, McLaughlin was particularly pleased to be rounding off the tour at Ronnie's because 'if it wasn't for Ronnie, I wouldn't be here'. It was his support of young jazz musicians back in the 60s, giving them the chance to play in the club that led to exposure - in McLaughlin's case - to Jack DeJohnette who told Tony Williams in New York, which led to Lifetime and ultimately the Mahavishnu Orchestra. And it was revisiting the spirit and the substance of the Mahavishnu repertoire going right back to their first recordings that shaped the band's wall-to-wall virtuosic, solid 2-hour set.

In the presence of long-established musical partnerships with bassist Etienne Mbappe (8 years), percussionist Ranjit Barot (12 years), and Gary Husband (20 years) on keyboards and second drum kit, the most profound impact was still made by McLaughlin himself who at a mere 75 years was as breathtakingly dextrous and intense as that 30 year old who led the charge with The Inner Mounting Flame in 1971.

The intimacy of Ronnie's brought out some startling playing - kicking off with that unmistakable depth charge, Meeting of the Spirits, power-driven with the breath of new life, setting down a marker, letting the house know that any signs of lip service were right out of the question! And there was no mistaking McLaughlin's enthusiasm for revisiting these landmark compositions, reconfirming and even rediscovering their quality and longevity.

Mbappe, black-gloved, padded over the bass fretboard with spider-like dexterity and hints of Pastorius, laying down structure and maxing out with two wonderfully fresh and inventive bass solos. Barot, steeped in the musical traditions of the sub-continent, took over where Cobham had left off, adding spice to the power-jazz fusion with his joyfully crisp attack and rhythmic invention, while Husband improvised with a light touch and great flair and in duet spells even mimicked McLaughlin's unique melodic vocabulary.

Vocals were shared in the surprise cover of Pharoah Sanders' The Creator Has A Master Plan. There were tributes to close musical associates who had passed, including El Hombre Que Sabia for Paco De Lucia and AbbaJi for tabla maestro Alla Rakha, while a sombre tone was struck with Gaza City. The gutsy blues base of The Dance of Maya contrasted with the softer lyricism of A Lotus on Irish Streams, and the set finished off with 'a slambanger' which became a vehicle for McLaughlin's staggering extended solo of power, hyper-fluency and invention.

They encored with You Know You Know which cheekily micro-quoted Sunshine of your Love, ending with smiles all round and the audience on its feet for the second time. A seriously amazing performance.

Nikki Yeoh's versatility as composer and on keyboards was the perfect opener for the evening. Engaging and intriguing, her compositions reflected her admiration for Hermeto Pascoal, and an appreciation of the complexities of Conlon Nancarrow; and she rose to the challenge of playing on one instrument a piece for two pianos she'd written for Joanna McGregor!

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension were playing on the first two nights of the Jazzwise 20th Anniversary Festival

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