John McLaughlin: Risk, Magic And Mystery
One of the features of the 4th Dimension's autumn European tour was a drum duet between Barot and Gary Husband. Despite being best known as a drummer, particularly for his long-standing collaboration with guitarist Allan Holdsworth, Husband is a truly fine pianist and keyboard player, and he's been the 4th Dimension's keyboardist since the band's inception. Prior to Barot's joining the band, Husband and Mondesir also indulged in drum battles, but this tête-à-tête between Barot and Husband really gets McLaughlin's juices flowing. "Gary and Ranjit are like Tom and Jerrythey just go together," enthuses McLaughlin. "It's like rock 'n' roll. They have a fantastic understanding between them."
Husband seemed destined to play in McLaughlin's band one day, ever since seeing Shakti in 1976 and the One Truth Band a couple of years later. In a 2009 interview with All About Jazz, Husband described how he always used to make a point of seeking McLaughlin out after a gig to pass him a cassette in the hopes of making an impression on the guitarist. Eventually, in the mid-'80s according to Husband, McLaughlin did offer him the role of second keyboardist, but Husband was holding out for the drum chair.
A decade later, McLaughlin invited Husband to record drums on one track from The Promise (Verve, 1995), but scheduling clashes made that impossible. Finally, Husband played keyboards and drummed on McLaughlin's Industrial Zen (Verve, 2006), and from there the door to becoming a permanent member of the soon-to-be- born 4th Dimension was opened.
If Husband was thrilled by the opportunity to tour with McLaughlin, then the guitarist is no less enthusiastic about what Husband brings to the band. "Gary is one of those rare human beings: delightful, unpretentious and just loaded with talent. I mean, just amazing. He's so quick, I just make a suggestion to him, and he knows exactly what to do. You don't have to paint a picture, you just make a little sketch, and he knows immediately what has to be done in the music. He probably knows my music better than I do," laughs McLaughlin.
There's more than an element of truth in the notion that Husband knows McLaughlin's music, if not better than the man himself, then better than most. Husband's solo piano recording A Meeting of Spirits: Interpretations of the Music of John McLaughlin (Alternity, 2006) showed Husband's deep feeling for McLaughlin's unique idiom. McLaughlin was more than impressed. "I was amazed," he recalls. "I sent Gary's recording to Chick [Corea], with whom I have a friendship going back over 40 years now, and Chick loved it. Chick wants to record with Gary, just two pianos, and if you're looking for testimony, that's it."
Husband's significance to the chemistry at the heart of the 4th Dimension is great, as McLaughlin is quick to acknowledge: "What he contributes to the bandI don't know, I mean, if I lost Gary I would be lost." It's hard to imagine McLaughlin ever being lost, and he elaborates a little when pushed on the point: "Nobody is indispensable, it's true. I would hopeand both Zakir and I feel very profoundly about thisthat Shakti can continue in some formation and that eventually we could be replaced even though it was founded by us. Nobody is irreplaceable, but I would have very big problems if I lost Gary. It's very clear. He's very, very dear to me as a human being and as a musician."
The other element of the 4th Dimension is bassist Etienne Mbappe, whose power is matched by his lyricism. He and McLaughlin also go back a bit. "I've known Etienne for 12 or 13 years now," says McLaughlin. "I met him when he was playing with [keyboardist Joe] Zawinul." At the mention of his former sparring partner on trumpeter Miles Davis' album In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969), McLaughlin goes off on a slight tangent, talking about the tours that Weather Report shared with Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti and recalling how the great Austrian composer/keyboard player wasn't always the easiest person to get along with.
"Joe and I didn't always have a very happy relationship," admits McLaughlin. After one particular Zawinul strop, McLaughlin composed the song "Jozy" for him. "I just wanted him to know that I really cared about him, and I did. I cared very deeply about Joe," says McLaughlin. "After that, we became very dear and very close friends. And every time I'd go and see him play, for years afterwards, he would always take the mic and say, 'I just want to say John is here.' It was so sweet."
McLaughlin gave a eulogy for Zawinul in Vienna and it's perhaps fitting that a little bit of the spirit of Zawinul should now reside in the 4th Dimension through bassist M'Bappe, who had also recorded with singers Salif Keita and Ray Charles. M'Bappe had been on McLaughlin's radar for a dozen years since they first met, but McLaughlin, himself a Francophile, had to bide his time. "Etienne was busy with Joe [Zawinul] and doing other things," says McLaughlin."I had to wait until he was free, and he's been in the band ever since."