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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