Fu­sion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

Black Light John McLaugh­lin Ab­stract Logix

Sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian John McLaugh­lin, the sil­ver­maned demigod of jazz-rock, shows no signs of slow­ing down as a guitar player, as a per­for­mance and record­ing artist or as a pas­sion­ate prod­der of mu­si­cal bound­aries. The ur­bane English­man’s six-decade ca­reer has yielded 50-odd al­bums as soloist and band­leader.

Those im­pos­ing stats, com­bined with the knowl­edge that in­nu­mer­able stu­dio ses­sions have in­cluded piv­otal side­man roles on clas­sic re­leases by Miles Davis and other giants of jazz, lend con­sid­er­able cre­dence to the gui­tarist’s as­ser­tion that Black Light is among the best records he has made.

McLaugh­lin’s third stu­dio al­bum with the 4th Di­men­sion also con­firms the gui­tarist as fleet-fin­gered as ever while af­firm­ing his com­mit­ment to jazz-fu­sion with cos­mopoli­tan con­no­ta­tions.

His latest set also con­tains sev­eral sublime tes­ti­mo­ni­als to fel­low lu­mi­nar­ies. McLaugh­lin had planned to record his com­po­si­tion El Hom­bre Que Sabia on a duo al­bum with Paco de Lu­cia be­fore the fla­menco mae­stro’s sud­den demise last year. The York­shire­man’s vale­dic­tory trib­ute to his amigo is ap­pro­pri­ately em­bel­lished with the kind of el­e­gant acous­tic guitar runs and melodic fig­ures that he used to swap in a trio with de Lu­cia and Al Di Me­ola, only with the liq­uid elec­tric-pi­ano lines of fel­low Brit and for­mer Level 42 mem­ber Gary Hus­band pro­vid­ing the foil, In­dian drum­mer Ran­jit Barot’s rim­tap­ping a castanet-like pulse and rhyth­mic un­der­pin­ning from Cameroon-born Eti­enne Mbappe’s rum­bling elec­tric bass.

Else­where on Black Light, mak­ing light of his 73 years, McLaugh­lin ex­e­cutes enough blis­ter­ingly fast elec­tric guitar so­los and bluesy note-bending to ap­pease his most ar­dent fans.

The in­com­pa­ra­ble axeman burns from open­ing cut Here Come the Jiis, un­leash­ing a fe­ro­cious flurry of semi­qua­vers in a meaty chunk of 21st-cen­tury jazz-rock driven by a fran­tic cir­cu­lar chop­per of a riff.

With Hus­band dou­bling ex­ten­sively on drums, there’s cer­tainly no short­age of per­cus­sive mus­cle.

In the fu­ri­ously funky Clap Your Hand, to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of crash­ing cym­bals and snare, bub­bling bass and a B3 or­gan vamp, and in the ul­tra-mod­ern 360 Flip, in which elec­tronic beats work in tan­dem with punchy kit drum­ming, the kon­nakol-style South In­dian vo­calese scat­ting of Barot punc­tu­ates.

The dis­tinc­tive “dakkata-dot” syl­la­bles also fea­ture on Pan­ditji, McLaugh­lin’s emo­tive trib­ute to a leg­endary men­tor, sitar vir­tu­oso Ravi Shankar, with the gui­tarist’s ser­pen­tine rock licks evok­ing mem­o­ries of his days with the Ma­hav­ishnu Or­ches­tra. Con­trast is pro­vided in the slower tem­pos of Be­ing You Be­ing Me, a re­flec­tive piece of tran­scen­dent beauty, and Gaza City, a more solemn study that’s pred­i­cated on a mil­i­tary drum beat and Jaco Pas­to­rius-inspired bass slides.

McLaugh­lin has mas­ter­minded another mag­nif­i­cent al­bum, one that — as he rightly ob­serves — has opened a por­tal that is nei­ther jazz nor rock, nor In­dian nor blues, yet all of the above.

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