It's been six years since John McLaughlin released a flat-out fusion record, but the guitar icon has been talking about Industrial Zen for some time, generating considerable buzz in the process. And it's been worth the wait. The Promise (Verve, 1995), McLaughlin's last recording with a large cast, rather than a fixed ensemble, was an inconsistent effort. While it revealed his diverse musical interests, it was more a collection of disparate pieces than a unified statement. The thrilling and altogether more cohesive Industrial Zen combines McLaughlin's high-octane playing with the Indian influences that have pervaded much of his career.
Rather than drawing a strict line between Indo-fusion projects like Remember Shakti and powerhouse bands like The Heart of Things, McLaughlin brings them together here. Tabla player Zakir Hussain, a long-time collaborator, joins Heart of Things drummer Dennis Chambers, bassist Matthew Garrison and keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz on "To Bop or Not to Be." McLaughlin's Indian-informed melody is layered on top of hypnotic synthesizer programming that, as a fundamental complexion of the entire record, lends credence to its paradoxical title. But once the band kicks in, McLaughlin demonstrates his encyclopaedic command of a broader musical language. By combining jazz-centric harmonic complexity with Eastern linear depth, his solo transcends both and becomes both unique and universal.
McLaughlin brings '80s Mahavishnu alumnus/saxophonist Bill Evans, together with relative newcomers/drummers Mark Mondesir and Gary Husband for the upbeat "For Jaco." Bassist Hadrien Feraudwho also appears on the equally energetic homage to Carlos Santana, "Senor C.S."pays fitting tribute to the late Pastorius, even quoting "Continuum" on the tune's outro. Husband, who built his reputation through early association with another fusion legend, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, proves he's equally imaginative, whether on the keyboards or the kit. Appearing in one or both capacities on five of the eight tunes on Industrial Zen, he's the closest thing to a constant companion as McLaughlin has on the disc.
Given the combination of drum programming throughout and two percussionists on five tracks, this is McLaughlin's most rhythm-heavy release to date, but there's never a clash of purpose. "Dear Dalai Lama," the first of two guest spots for vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, begins with spiritual ambience until Chambers and Hussain enter nearly four minutes later. The two create a complex but integrated rhythmic foundation for an extended series of trade-offs between McLaughlin and saxophonist Ada Rovatti that gradually build to breathtaking intensity.
John McLaughlin is sometimes criticized for grandiose and occasionally unsuccessful aspirations, but in Industrial Zen he has created a perfect confluence of his divergent interests. And by placing a greater emphasis on technology than ever before, McLaughlin shows that his eyes and ears remain fully open, even though he's approaching 65.
Track Listing: For Jaco; New Blues Old Bruise; Wayne's Way; Just So Only More So; To Bop or Not to Be; Dear Dalai Lama; Senor C.S.; Mother Nature.
Personnel: John McLaughlin: guitar, synth programming, drum programming, , fretless guitar, chants;
Bill Evans: soprano sax (1), soprano and tenor sax (4); Gary Husband: keyboards (1-3,5,7),
drums (1,7); Hadrien Feraud : bass guitar (1, 7); Mark Mondesir: drums (1, 7); Eric Johnson:
guitar (2); Vinnie Colaiuta: drums (2); Ada Rovatti: soprano sax (3), tenor sax (6); Dennis
Chambers: drums (3,5,6); Zakir Hussain: tabla (3,5,6); Tony Grey: bass guitar (3,8);
Matthew Garrison: bass guitar (4,5); Marcus Wippersberg: additional drum programming
(4); Otmaro Ruiz: synthesizer (5); Shankar Mahadevan: vocal (6,8).