John McLaughlin: On The Road, Part 7: Stories from the Road
The kindness of strangers bailed Feraud our of a serious situation, but there were other instances where the situation, though not so extreme, was still rewarded, thanks to Deghelt's strong people skills and his ability to find ways out of uncomfortable situations. "Another nice story is our arrival in Montreal," Deghelt explains. "It was almost the end of the tour; we arrived from Philadelphia, really toasted, in the afternoon. It was a travel day. Coming from United States, we had to go through Customs. Afternoon arrivals meant we were in at the same time as all the flights from Europe, so the queue was really big, almost six hundred people waiting, so there was at least one hour's wait in the queue.
"I was near John and saw, in his face, how painful the situation was, how tired he was at this moment. He just said to me how sad he was to have to wait so long. I told him that he was John McLaughlin, and he deserved a special welcome. He smiled, but was not really convinced I could find a way. I love this kind of situation. I went straight to a very nice lady of the security, told her I was with John McLaughlin, coming for a very important concert in Montreal, that we were very late and kindly requested her help to avoid this very long queue and save time for my musicians...and guess what, she helped me... and took us straight to Customs, avoiding this long queue.
"I could not believe it, I was so happy for them... I saw John's smiling...'Christophe's rules,' he said. In fact, when you have the chance to work for such great and unique musicians, you have to be the best all the time. That is why I've found the energy on every tour to give the best of myself. John makes you better all the time."
From the perspective of the musicians, the rigors of the road are hard, but worth it, especially when it's possible to feel the evolution of a band over even the short course of just under three weeks. Speaking before the October 4 Ottawa gig, Gary Husband had a few things to say about the experience of working as a group: "There's certainly a more settled feeling. Hadrien, Mark and I, we've got our work cut out for us, and I think for this band, however long it stays aroundand hopefully for a whileI think it's very important for us to work on a kind of cohesion.
"For me, a sense of tension and release, as opposed to just tension. Don't get me wrong, I love frenetic, I love ball-to-the-wall playing, but I think that we really all have to work. Hadrian said to me the other day at sound check, 'Would you mind not playing this bass note when you play the chords,' and I had to ask myself, 'Why did I play a bass note, because I don't usually play a bass note as a root to a chord, and why did I do that?' I don't know. Maybe I was missing one, and so we have to sort these things out, but also be a really flexible and dedicated support for John. He demands interaction, he doesn't want to hear the same solo every night, he wants to be kicked in the ass, so to speak, and he wants some friction."
While almost every night was recorded and will be evaluated by McLaughlin for potential release, possibly as in digital download-only format, sometimes things conspire against getting the best material on disc. "Unfortunately," Husband says, "I think the best night that we had was New York. I think the rest of the band thought so too. A lot of magic happened that night, but thanks to some bureaucratic bullshit it didn't get recordedit was absolutely forbidden for us to even take a personal memento of it, which was a real shame because we missed out on a really good one there. But I think there are some good nights in the can, and if they could see the light of day I'd be really pleased."
One of the remarkable characteristics of the 4th Dimension tour was that regardless of the high energy, balls-to- the-wall frenzy Husband talks about, there was a deep lyricism, in fact perhaps some of the most consistently lyrical music McLaughlin has played. "John's a very different person today," says Husband, "in the way he plays, the way he improvises, the way he writes. There's a lot of breathing space, something that I've really been trying to encourage in myself.
"I think John is just playing absolutely brilliantly. And what's also on view here is this really under-sung quality of histhat he's really a rhythm guitarist extraordinaire. He did rhythm with The Free Spirits and his acoustic trio a lot, but it's there in exemplary form on [Miles Davis'] A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970), and ever since then, the way he played behind Miles, he's been like a comping, rhythm guitar god."
Being a double-threat (at the very least, since Husband's also a fine writer)a remarkable keyboardist and drummermeant that there were opportunities for the group to explore some powerful two-drummer interaction. Husband's "jungle kit," with a bass drum, snare and single tom, along with two very unusual looking cymbals, was constructed just for this purpose. "There's a company called Factory Metal Percussion," Husband says, "and they make kind of like a cymbal substitute; very dirty, very trashy, and I thought that would be a really great idea for this, particularly since it's very distinctive from normal cymbals. So you really sense this when I'm playing with Mark.
"Also the drum soundvery small compared to hisJohn's really into this jungle kind of thing. It's nice to have a small sound up against a big sound; a trashy sound up against a clean sound that gives it distinction. Also there are different aspects with the double drum thing. Even this afternoon you could see we were looking at different ways we could stir it around and circulate it, for it to be really effective."
A few closing thoughts from Husband focus on what he and, no doubt, everyone in the group aims for, and with the European tour next spring, there's every reason to think that the group will be able to leverage on what they've achieved here in North America, and move things even further forward. "For however long it lasts, I want it to be a great band," explains Husband. "This isn't a retrospective, it's not a copy of anything.
Mark Mondesir, Hadrien Feraud, John McLaughlin, Gary Husband
"Right now you see a lot of big names getting together, and it doesn't always lead to cohesion; it's not a guarantee, as great as everybody is. I think they're often kind of clumsily put together. When a band has longevity and can continue to grow, become more focused and coherent in all aspects and really develop, it's just a wonderful thing. I love bands when they get really settled in."
Comparing the group that played in Durham, North Carolina on September 13, 2007 to the that one wrapped up the tour in Toronto, there's no doubt that there's been significant growth and cohesion. There's also little doubt that the group will continue to evolve on the 2008 European tour. Meanwhile, those who were fortunate enough to catch John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension's North American tour have plenty to be thankful for. And with McLaughlin's new studio CD (which will also include a "making of" DVD) due out early in 2008, along with the Official Bootleg (Abstract Logix/Mediastarz, 2007) from the tour, the recently released The Gateway to Rhythm (Abstract Logix, 2007) DVD and the Mahavishnu Orchestra Live at Montreux 1974/1984 (Eagle Vision, 2007) double-DVD, there's plenty to keep McLaughlin fans happy.