John McLaughlin: On The Road, Part 4: Montreal, Canada
As in Durham, Mondesir only took one solo, but his near-telepathic interplay was key throughout the evening, especially notable on Husband's abstract arrangement of Miles Davis' "Jean Pierre," this time moving from unshakable swing to greasy funk. His one solo, on "Mother Tongues," was, however, all that was needed to hear his own sense of conceptual development. Like the rest of the group, he's an encyclopedic player who's assimilated a wealth of diverse influences to create a style that comfortably sits between hard-line groove and loose-limbed dexterity. Still, it was terrific, at one point during his trade- offs with Husband, to see him reference Tony Williams with a series of Swiss (flam) triplets between cymbals and drums, a trademark technique of the late drummer. Ears ever open, he locked in with McLaughlin beautifully throughout the set, subtly when the guitarist was off to the side providing accompaniment to the solos of Husband or Feraud, but also on "Mother Tongues," when the two launched into a robust and unrelenting duet half-way through.
Besides just tighter playing, looser and more adventurous interaction and consistently impressive soloing, the group's overall focus was stronger, which was clearly picked up by the audience a number of times throughout the performance, various highly charged moments earning partial or full standing ovations. But as much as the group impressed with its stunning virtuosity, lyricism was in equal supply. The encore, Pierro Piccione's simple but beautiful "Light on the Edge of the World" (made famous by Pharoah Sanders), was a gentle ending to an evening that amazed with prodigious pyrotechnics yet traversed considerable emotional territory.
It's too easy to dismiss the electric music that McLaughlin has made for four decades as nothing more than chops and technique. But even in his earliest Mahavishnu Orchestra days there was a thematic sense that imbued even the most ambitious and complex material. Certainly on this occasion the Montreal audience was treated to a stellar evening that proved that fusion is far more than mere bombast: it's a meeting place where, in the right hands, virtuosity is a means to a very musical and richly resonant end.
Part 5 of AAJ's extensive On the Road series picks up on October 4, when McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension converge on Ottawa for a show sponsored by the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival at Dominion-Chalmers United Church.