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.