Jimmy Herring and The Invisible Whip
John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension
Meeting of the Spirits Tour
November 11, 2017
In the late 1960s, the bluesy electric soul music of Jimi Hendrix
and the funk of Sly and the Family Stone began to influence Miles Davis
, whose subsequent seminal Bitches Brew
album (subtitled New Directions In Music) began a genre known as jazz fusion. The guitar virtuoso who helped bring Davis' more rock less traditional jazz vision to fruition was Englishman John McLaughlin
, fresh from playing with the loudly rambunctious Tony Williams Lifetime.
Taking things a step further, using no horns or reeds and, with few exceptions, purely electric, McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra featured ex Flock violinist Jerry Goodman
and ex Sarah Vaughan
keyboardist Jan Hammer
as co-lead instruments with his guitar, wailing often in breath-taking unison atop human maelstrom Billy Cobham on drums.
Egos, mis-guided marketing that promoted John over the band and cracks in musical direction imploded the group in 1973, but during its run, MO inspired many current musicians, from Pat Metheny
to Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring
, who was chosen by McLaughlin to play on this farewell Mahavishnu Orchestra Meeting Of the Spirits US tour. McLaughlin stated in a May 2017 Newsweek interview that this tour will be his farewell to America and that he finds it exciting "to take the music from the early '70s and bring it into 2017... to bring it up to date."
A generally gray-haired crowd attended the 1200 seat Lincoln Theatre's sold out show in Washington, DC Saturday night; the ninth show of the tour; a large percentage having either warm memories of seeing the original band or decades old regrets that they missed them.
Herring opened the three set show with his band The Invisible Whip. Even though he has spent much of his career playing in jam bands, since 2008 he has made jazz fusion flavored solo albums, with his playing becoming at its best a unique amalgamation of Jerry Garcia's inspired wanderings and McLaughlin's ferociously fast fretted fire.
Highlights included the opening "John McLaughlin" (a Bitches Brew
tune) and an energetic version of the Allman Brothers' "Les Brers in A Minor," featuring an excellent B-3 organ solo by Matt Slocum
. Interestingly, Herring's solos here frequently used his volume pedal, leaning more towards the horn players' phrasing (Miles, Coltrane, Charlie Parker
) he has said that influenced his playing than the heat he would flash later in the evening during the MO section of the show.
McLaughlin and his 4th Dimension (keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband
, gloved bassist Etienne Mbappe
, drummer Ranjit Barot
) followed, beginning with a loose version of "Miles Beyond," as M'Bappe and John both had equipment issues, so Husband played an extended introduction while things were sorted out. Alas, the specially made blue PRS double-neck only made it through one entire song all night, but the snafus seemed to inspire McLaughlin, who smiled and danced, channelling his frustration into blisteringly fast but brilliantly solid solos that some in attendance commented ranked among his best playing ever.
The set especially shone with an emotionally inspired homage to the late Paco De Lucia
, "El Hombre Que Sabia." Unfortunately, a lengthy Husband/Barot percussion duet that had John sitting at Gary's keyboards conducting both drummers took some of the momentum from an otherwise fine "Echoes of Then." One wonders if it was a reaction to the multiple guitar and bass rig failures that plagued the McLaughlin side of the stage.
Finally, Herring and his band quickly rejoined the stage as the evening's raison d'être, the Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute Meeting of the Spirits segment, began with the 1971 Inner Mounting Flame
track "Meeting of the Spirits." Herring's solo playing gained ferocity as well as velocity compared with earlier, as a smiling McLaughlin appeared extremely impressed at the brilliance of it all. A strong trilogy allowed everyone in both bands to show off their chops as the piece progressed through its "Sunlit Path/La Mere de la Mer/Tomorrow's Story Not the Same" sections, with Jason Crosby's violin playing being particularly strong.
Crosby continued to impress on an electric version of the delicate "A Lotus on Irish Streams," which would be the last relatively calm playing of the evening as the show became more energized with a smoking hot rendition of "Eternity's Breath Parts 1 & 2" from 1974's Visions of the Emerald Beyond
; a tune popularized on several tours by Jeff Beck.
The evening built to a climax with two songs from Emerald Beyond
, "Earth Ship" and "Be Happy," that alternated with the classic title track from the 1972 Birds Of Fire
album and 1971's quintessential "Dance of Maya." "Birds" suffered a little from the doubleneck's absence, forcing John to play the arpeggiated chords on six rather than twelve strings, losing some of the signature sound of the piece, but Herring and McLaughlin provided plenty of heat, with Herring's solos almost a step beyond John's contrastingly slower lightning bolts as the two played musical chess at a grand-master level.
Similar to King Crimson
's current tour presenting older lesser known material in a new complimentary light, the three Emerald Beyond
pieces more than held their own in comparison with the much better known and beloved material played on the night.
But the crowning jewel of the show was the "Dance Of Maya"the "greatest hit" that closed the set. According to Wikipedia, ancient Mayan dance is characterized by humans transforming into supernatural (god like) beings, sometimes through the use of hallucinogenic drugs. One of McLaughlin's signature pieces, the ensemble played the march- like mixture of two odd time signatures and twisting aural MC Escher-like note clusters that represent the dancers' metamorphosis' with great emotional and interpretive intensity to the delight of the crowd, who stood wildly applauding at its conclusion.
The encore was the aptly titled "Be Happy," joyfully played as the bands smiled and alternated solos with tight unison runs, leaving that warm high that only great music can bring.
John McLaughlin has been called the living link between Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane
, due to his work with Miles and beyond. And, just like Miles, he has constantly reinvented himself musically, never content to rest on his laurels. But, unlike the mercurial Davis, he has chosen to revisit his past with this night on this tour and in a definitely not so silent way, shown that something old can truly be new and exciting again.