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John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension: Philadelpha, PA November 12, 2010

Linda Braceland By

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John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension
The Keswick Theatre
Glenside, PA 19038
November 12, 2010

Guitarist John McLaughlin kicked off the US portion of his North American Tour Friday night in the Philadelphia area, at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA. Whether you are a fan of fusion, blues, rock or strictly jazz, there is no disputing the talent that appeared on the stage in the form of McLaughlin and his band, The 4th Dimension. This tour, which promotes their recent album, To The One (Abstract Logix, 2010), will end mid-December in Berkley, California.

McLaughlin was at his peak, as always. It was impressive that a musician who has played professionally for over 50 years could still inject such energy and excitement into his music. At times it was breathtaking just to watch his fingers explode over the neck of his Godin Freeway, yet his demeanor was one of tranquility. Despite his white hair, he looked much younger than his 68 years, and nothing about McLaughlin was old or dated. During the concert, he played a variety of styles, and kept the band tight with a high degree of interplay. It was obvious these musicians have played together for awhile.

McLaughlin's band members include Gary Husband—a dynamite keyboardist and drummer who was equally talented on both instruments. Husband jumped between electric organ, synthesizer and electric piano, then traded easy eights on the drums—an incredible talent who can also be heard on McLaughlin's Industrial Zen (Verve, 2006).

Also on that album, and in the Keswick concert, was Mark Mondesir, whose hands and arms moved like disembodied entities floating above the cymbals. Mostly self-taught, Mondesir—who also appeared on McLaughlin's The Promise (Verve, 1995)—produced rhythmically challenging drum sounds with insane speed and precision.

The newest band member, bassist Etienne Mbappe, joined the band in 2009 after McLaughlin's original bassist, Hadrien Feraud, broke his hand. Playing with black silk gloves, M'Bappe was a marvel on the strings. Born in Cameroon and raised in Paris, M'Bappe has expressed his talent in jazz, rock, fusion/funk and African sounds.

The band started off the show with "Raju," a cut from McLaughlin's Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008), with guitar riffs reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The group moved onto, "Unknown Dissident," from McLaughlin's Electric Dreams (Columbia, 1978), originally recorded with saxophonist David Sanborn, and played with a lyrical guitar and Husband's acoustic piano. It was great to hear some of McLaughlin's older pieces along with the new.

Only one song from To the One, "Fine Line," made it into this concert. The highlight of the piece was the double-drums trading eights, and an expressive solo by McLaughlin at the end.

From left: Mark Mondesir, Gary Husband

"New Blues Old Bruise" and "Senor C.S." were two picks from Industrial Zen, where McLaughlin demonstrated his incredible fingering, shifting without effort between intense riffs, mesmerizing 16th notes and a balladic ending. Husband played a synthesizer solo in "New Blues," and a slow, melodic, electric organ opening to "Senor C.S." He rolled into a classic piano style towards the middle, where his involvement in the piece and the concert became evident. Trading continued to a frenzied pitch.

The ballad, "Nostalgia," broke up the intensity and slowed things down a bit, with Husband playing organ and piano together in this melodic tune. Husband's original, "Sully, with its funky, rock sound, began with an intense, almost scratchy electric piano solo, which led into M'Bappe's thumb-slapping bass on a song that was all about rhythm.

"Hijack" was a drum/bass fusion extravaganza with Mondesir's fast, intense cymbal solo. His endurance was awesome, as his arms became blurs and his leg moved the high hat at a remarkable speed.

The group wrapped up the concert with "Mother Tongue," which moved directly into Floating Point's "Five Piece Band." The showcase song illustrated a great piano solo, and an awesome double-drum routine, where McLaughlin would play two chords every eight bars, as Mondesir and Husband followed with drum acrobatics and electrifying riffs. M'Bappe's strong bass and, of course, McLaughlin's magic fingers made the piece.

After several minutes of applause and shouting, the band reappeared for an encore of Pierro Piccione's hymn, "Light On The End of the World," made famous by Pharoah Sanders—a soothing end to a superb evening of musical ferocity.

It was disappointing that more people didn't show up for this rousing concert. Still, although the theatre was less than full, it didn't diminish the crowd's enthusiasm or the quality of the performance.

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