Now Here This: A legendary guitarist producing great new music

John McLaughlinJohn McLaughlin will be making his first-ever appearances on stage in Thailand on March 17 and 18, 2014, with his latest band The 4th Dimension.  The CD Now Here This is garnering great reviews, but, after all, it’s hard to avoid superlatives when speaking of John and his long and incredible career in music.

“John McLaughlin is one of the most celebrated, widely regarded guitarists in jazz history, and one that helped to change the music forever in the same way that Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall did before him.” – Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

“McLaughlin was peerless, mixing psychedelic rock, R&B, gypsy jazz, flamenco and Indian raga techniques. That polyglot mastery earned him huge respect from jazz and rock peers alike.” – Rolling Stone, 100 Greatest Guitarists

“The modal jazz, jazz-rock, fusion and the ever-present blues that has largely defined McLaughlin’s unique five-decade musical adventure are all in the mix, though artfully distilled to maximize melody and lyricism…  The 4th Dimension has evolved to a point where the sky’s the limit.  In concert?  Surely unmissable.” – Ian Patterson, All About Jazz

John McLaughlin was 27 years old when he arrived in New York City from his native England in 1969.  He had landed a gig with Tony Williams Lifetime after catching the eye of Jack DeJohnette at a jam session at Ronnie Scott’s club in London…  and that gig with Tony resulted in an introduction to Miles Davis, and an immediate invitation to participate in the In A Silent Way sessions.  He could not possibly have found his way into the bubbling cauldron of electric jazz-rock fusion any faster!  The resulting recordings, like Tony Williams Lifetime’s Emergency! and Miles’s Bitches Brew are still considered revolutionary.

In John’s own words, “After a club date in Boston in 1970 with Miles, he tells me it’s time to form my own band.”  From that simple statement a monster is born:  Mahavishnu Orchestra.  It might be hard today to understand the impact that this band had.  Here was a raw, powerful, rock-loud, instrumental band, with virtuosi at every position, playing electricified jazz one minute, and beautiful, haunting ballads the next.  With drummer extraordinaire Billy Cobham and bass player Rick Laird driving the rhythm, violinist Jerry Goodman and keyboard player Jan Hammer joined John on some incredible flights of fancy.  Audiences were mesmerized.  Their second studio LP, Birds of Fire, recorded in August 1972, made it to #15 on the US album charts.

My personal introduction to John’s music actually came through a slightly different angle, though:  Carlos Santana.  Santana had begun making his own foray into jazz-fusion, and I was a huge and immediate fan of his album Caravanserai, which finished recording in May 1972.  Shortly after recording Birds of Fire, McLaughlin and Santana brought together several members of their respective bands, plus organist Larry Young from Tony Wiliams Lifetime, and recorded Love Devotion Surrender.  Thom Jurek, in All Music Guide, says “After three decades it still sounds completely radical and stunningly, movingly beautiful… the interplay of two men who were not merely playing tribute to John Coltrane, but trying to take his ideas about going beyond the realm of Western music to communicate with the language of the heart as it united with the cosmos.”  Yes…  big stuff.

It wasn’t until the early 1980’s in Houston that I first had an opportunity to see John play a live concert, and by then it was in an entirely different musical setting:  the acoustic guitar trio with Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia, touring on the back of the extraordinary album Friday Night in San Francisco.  Then in the mid 1990’s I caught John and the Free Spirits, with Dennis Chambers on drums and Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond organ and trumpet, at the Singapore Arts Festival.  There are so many more groups I would have loved to have seen:  Shakti with Zakir Hussain, the trio with Elvin Jones, The Heart Of Things with Dennis Chambers and Matt Garrison…

Enlightened Planet exists today because I want to share the music I love.  It is so great to have a chance to present John McLaughlin in Thailand, after already having produced events in Southeast Asia with a couple of John’s former drummer colleagues, Billy Cobham and Dennis Chambers.  And on Enlightened Planet Facebook page this month I am treating everyone to a “history lesson” in John’s music…  hopefully lending some audio and video context to this gushing post!

Which brings us to the present day…  and The 4th Dimension.  I believe this latest album is John’s best electric work in a long time.  But don’t just take MY word for it:

“Nearly a half-century after he first started gigging in the U.K., McLaughlin retains the dazzling technique and articulation that established him as a guitar hero with Miles in the late ’60s and stunned with Mahavishnu Orchestra in the ’70s.  Now Here This, his second album with The 4th Dimension – Gary Husband (keys, drums), Ranjit Barot (drums) and Etienne M’Bappe (electric bass) – treads as close to classic Mahavishnu fusion territory as McLaughlin has ventured in many a year…  Like Billy Cobham and Tony Williams before him, Barot is a juggernaut but he’s also got plenty of ideas about how to ride a melody.  In collusion with funkmeister M’Bappe and the highly rhythmic Husband, he gives McLaughlin a hell of a lot to work with here:  The 4th Dimension is the guitarist’s most imposing electric band since those heady days of 40 years back.” – Jeff Tamarkin, JazzTimes

Come out Monday, March 17th to Overtone Club at RCA in Bangkok at 7pm for John’s Guitar Workshop (with Gary Husband on keyboards)…  and then join The 4th Dimension for the full concert on March 18th at M Theatre at 8pm!  The Thailand shows are presented by Prart Music Group, and are part of the wider Asia Tour 2014 which is being managed by the good folks at AbstractLogix.  Tickets are available for the Bangkok shows at ThaiTicketMajor or contact Prart Music Group on +66-2-2030423.

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Paco de Lucia, 1947-2014

“Paco was a real man. Real in the sense of true; to himself, to his music and to everyone else. A man in that he was passionate, but had true compassion and deep understanding of the human condition. All this was revealed in his music and in his marvelous guitar playing. To have worked and played music with him is one the greatest blessings in my life. To say I will miss him is an understatement. In the place where he lived in my heart, there is now an emptiness that will stay with me till I join him.”

John McLaughlin, Feb. 28, 2014

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Filling the Jazz Happens Bar with Excess Luggage…

It’s always been Enlightened Planet’s goal to bring interesting musicians from around the world to perform in Asia in general, and in Thailand in particular. For seven years now we’ve tried to establish connections to make it easy to get things done when the chances arise.

So, when a Norwegian keyboard player that I know through Australian expat friends in Shanghai and who’s recorded with friends in New York called me on Skype when I was sitting in Sydney and says he needed a gig in Bangkok in two weeks… I just sent a few emails to my Thai promoter and venue owner friends and hoped it would work out. And, in this case, it did…

On November 20th at 9:00pm, Enlightened Planet joins together with Jazz Happens Bar to present Excess Luggage!

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Joe Bonamassa: “Driving towards Asia”

Blues-guitarist extraordinaire Joe Bonamassa has conquered the US of A.  He’s overwhelmed the capitols of Europe.  2012 is the year he finally has set his sights on Asia…  and he’s primed to overpower Bangkok on Saturday night, September 22nd!

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  • Next Event

    John McLaughlin
    and The 4th Dimension
    March 17 and 18, 2014

    Click for workshop and concert details

    Guitar legend John McLaughlin has spent his storied career expanding the boundaries of jazz, fusing electric rock, Indian, and other world music styles in his own unique way. John makes his first-ever appearance in Thailand, with a Guitar Workshop on March 17 at Overtone Club, RCA, and a live concert with his band The 4th Dimension on March 18 at M Theatre.

    Tickets on sale now at ThaiTicketMajor sites!

    “John McLaughlin is the best guitarist alive.” – Jeff Beck

    “What John McLaughlin did with the electric guitar set the world on its ear. No one ever heard an electric guitar played like that before, and it certainly inspired me.” – Chick Corea

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  • Check out previous events

    Excess Luggage
    November 20, 2012

    When was the last time you heard a trio made up of piano, organ, and drums? Norwegian jazz artists Excess Luggage bring their unique sound to Bangkok!

    Call Jazz Happens Bar on 02-2829934 or 084-4500505 for reservations. Free admission, show starts at 9:00pm!

    See a list of ALL Enlightened Planet events