John McLaughlin: On The Road, Part 6: Sound Checks and Closing Night
Senior Editor since 2004With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, John wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying.
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As for McLaughlin? Any good improvising musician will tell you the goal is to avoid preconceived ideas, but few actually succeed in doing it. To be sure, there are certain ideas, certain motifs that McLaughlin returns to time and again, but the contexts in which they're heard are often so different as to make them new each time. His ability to execute seemingly impossible phrases, either through speed, intervallic leaps or unimaginable shifts up and down the neck, has never been more vivid, and his rhythm playing in Toronto was some of the best of the tour. With so many "how does he do that" moments, it's a good thing he's released an intensive instructional DVD, This is the Way I Do It (Mediastarz, 2004), that provides a window into his approach to improvisation, along with The Gateway to Rhythm (Abstract Logix, 2007) on which, alongside Remember Shakti's S. Ganesh Vinayakram, he explains the Indian Konokol, a universal system of mastering rhythm without drums.
Perhaps because it was the last night of the tour, everyone was just that extra bit loose. Fun has been a defining characteristic of the tour, but the group took it up a notch for the last show, especially during the drum trade-off section of "Mother Tongues" between Mondesir and Husband. Throughout the evening Husband was doing a number of different things with his "jungle kit"a small kit with bass drum, snare, tom and two industrial-sounding cymbalsbut by the time of "Mother Tongues" nothing was off- limits, including a hilarious trade-off of rim-rolls and Husband slapping his face for percussive effect.
While the evening was over far too quicklyand the same can be said for the touras the group splits off into different directions, the good news is that they'll be reuniting in May, 2008 for a European tour. In the meantime, those fortunate enough to have caught McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension in North America were treated to a rare opportunity to hear the legendary guitarist in a streamlined electric context, with a group that kicked his ass as much as he did theirs. They were also witness to a guitarist who could easily rest on his significant laurels, but instead continues to evolve and pursue new musical territory each and every day. The 4th Dimension was the perfect vehicle for McLaughlin's avoidance of safety netsa group where anything was possible because there was nothing less than complete trust.
With The Official Bootleg, featuring six tunes from the opening night, already sold at concerts and available through Abstract Logix, there's even better news. The majority of the performances were recorded, and may well see the light of day in part or in wholelikely as digital downloadsonce McLaughlin has had the opportunity to review them, to see how much he feels is worth releasing to the public.
All About Jazz's extensive coverage of this North American tour will conclude on Tuesday, October 9 with the seventh and final parta tour wrap-up, a couple of "road warrior" stories about the life between gigs, and portions of an interview with Gary Husband, who reflects on the group and the tour.