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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension Now Here This

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
Now Here This
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Had John McLaughlin hung up the guitar in the 1970s and never played another note in his life he would still be hailed as one of true stars of the instrument. Beginning with his 1969 debut album Extrapolation, his incendiary work with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Miles Davis and the ground-breaking fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti, all burn
with a intense creativity that still feels viscerally radical.

With a career spanning over 40 years it’s natural that amidst such highs there have been corresponding low points where technique has topped content. Happily this album is not one of them. Alongside Gary Husband (keyboards), Ranjit Barot (drums) and Ettienne M’Bappe (bass), the guitarist is clearly heard having a ball. 

The pieces presented are straight-forward jazz heads from which McLaughlin and Husband’s eager keyboards launch dueling sorties fueled and carried by a truly supple rhythm section. 

For several years McLaughlin has adopted a more glutinous guitar tone that’s thick and synth-like rather than the ice-pick precision of his early career with which he would pick and prize untold quantities of pearls and gems. It’s an obstacle some commentators have been unable to get around. Yet a even a cursory earful of his work on any one of the eight tracks reveal that though the technology has altered the overall presentation, there’s nothing deficient about his unerring ability to make a run around the fretboard an exciting and dazzling encounter.

The appropriately titled /Echoes From Then/ toys with the bluesy juxtapositions of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Dance Of The Maya and he pulls out some of his gutsiest note-benders during this intriguingly lop-sided take of 12-bar tropes. When it comes to being able to articulate the thrilling rush and blissful, beatific joy, there are few guitarists quite so expressive or as eloquent as McLaughlin. During the cartwheeling Call And Answer you can almost see him smiling as notes spill hither and thither, reminiscent in some respects of the frantic coda of Faith’s ascending run from Visions Of The Emerald Beyond.

If there is a cautionary note to sound, it’s that given his proven record as a gifted writer, there’s occasionally a sense that greater compositional rigour would not only add contrasting dynamics but might also stretch these excellent players into more challenging areas. That said, the standard of playing here is often remarkable and there’s plenty here from all concerned to savour and enjoy. Having turned 70 years old in 2012 one senses that McLaughlin is content to do exactly that.

This review first appeared in Prog

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