John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension: Now Here This (2012)
Guitarist John McLaughlin and his 4th Dimension group's studio debut, To The One (Abstract Logix, 2010), mined the past for inspiration. The spirit of saxophonist John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) drove McLaughlin's most charged electric playing in years, proving he'd lost none of his fire. Two years on, and McLaughlin's 4th Dimension returns another energetic set of strong compositions, less specifically inspired than To The One, but inspired nonetheless. McLaughlin's electric guitar and guitar-synthesizer swing between biting edge and a lyricism more in line with the sublime Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008).
Ranjit Barot replaces Mark Mondesir, and the Indian drummer brings another dimension (a 5th dimension?) to the band. On pulsating tracks like "Riff Raff" and "Call and Answer," drummer and guitarist go flat out in thrilling passages and it's difficult to think of any drummer driving McLaughlin this hard since Billy Cobham in the early Mahavishnu Orchestra days. Barot's polyrhythmic bustle, bass bombs and the snap and crackle of his cymbals greatly inform the mood of the music, and he forms a formidable rhythm team with bassist Etienne M'Bappe.
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 bouncing blues bass line of "Echos of Then" evokes trumpeter Miles Davis' A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971), though there's more of grooving funk vibe here. McLaughlin, at 70, sounds even more fired up than he was on that essential Davis session forty years ago. Keyboardist Gary Husbandever-present in the 4th Dimension since 2007and Barot take short, lively solos, but melody and groove win the day outright.
The slower, more spacious compositions are arresting. M'Bappes' purring fretless bass, McLaughlin's tender guitar-synth lines and Husband's spare piano playing combine beautifully on the soothing "Waterfall." It's impossible not to be seduced by the joyful guitar melody of "Not Here Not There" or pulled along in the undertow of M'Bappe's quietly spun funk. Husband's subtly emotive playing provides the perfect accompaniment to McLaughlin's more expansive though caressing phrasing. Balladic, and lovingly playful, this gem ranks among McLaughlin's most lyrical compositions.
The delicate arpeggio into to "Guitar Love" has just a hint of Mahavishnu Orchestra, though the band shifts up a gear with McLaughlin unleashing an inspired extended solo. Husband rises to the occasion with an untethered Hammond-style solo that burns, accompanied by McLaughlin's buoyant, floated chords. The short but explosive funk of "Take It or Leave It" provides a stirring finale. Stoked by M'Bappe's funk and Barot's in-the-pocket groove, McLaughlin's gradually intoxicating synth-guitar and Husband's understated counterpoint both evoke keyboardist Joe Zawinul's wicked charms.
With the notable exception of Shakti, McLaughlin's projects have burned fiercely and relatively briefly before new adventures beckon. After more than half a decade, the 4th Dimension has evolved to a point where, to coin a phrase, the sky's the limit. This blend of musical personalities has a balance and dynamism that's all too rare. In concert? Surely unmissable.
Track Listing: Trancefusion; Riff Raff; Echos From Then; Wonderfall; Call and Answer; Not Here Not There; Guitar Love; Take it or Leave It.
Personnel: John McLaughlin: electric guitar, synthesizer-guitar; Gary Husband: keyboards; Etienne M’Bappe: electric bass; Ranjit Barot: drums.