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It may not come as a total surprise, especially from an artist with the longevity and stylistic breadth of John McLaughlin, but riding in a van with the guitarist and his new group, The 4th Dimension keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, bass wunderkind Hadrien Feraud and drummer Mark Mondesirand listening to them talking about Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Woody Herman and others, it's an eye opener to those who think that a fusion band doesn't have its roots (or, at least, one of its branches) in the straight- ahead jazz tradition. Like many musicians who push musical boundaries, it's clear that in order to think outside of the box you need to know the dimensions of that box.
l:r Walter Kolosky, John McLaughlin
Rehearsing can be a tough and touchy subject with musicians. Many artists don't particularly enjoy rehearsals, using them as nothing more than vehicles to work out arrangements but, when it comes time to improvising, doing the absolute minimum necessary to get everyone comfortable with the material. Not so with McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension. Running through material from Industrial Zen (Verve, 2006), McLaughlin's late-1990s Heart of Things Band, new material from his forthcoming 2008 album and a surprise or two, the most lasting impression was: if the band is this powerful and committed in rehearsal, audiences eagerly anticipating this tour are going to be in for some very, very hot shows indeed.
While the energy was palpable while watching the group run down the material from the control room of Durham's Overdub Lane studio, the vibe was relaxed and affable. Between-song patter devolved, at times, into jokes, at other times into moments of near-silliness as McLaughlin launched into the opening of "New York, New York" with Husband right behind him.
But when it came to the music, there was no kidding around. As much as it was an opportunity to work through McLaughlin's seemingly impossible knotty and rapid-fire themes, complex harmonies and shifting rhythms, it was also a chance for the group to come together as a cohesive unit. Mondesir and Husband have worked together in other contexts over the years, including some dates with McLaughlin. McLaughlin and Feraud did a day of rehearsing at the guitarist's home before making the trip to North America, but until the first rehearsal on September 11, 2007, The 4thDimension had never actually played together as a band. All the more remarkable, then, that by the end of the second day of rehearsals this group felt as if it had been playing together for years, with Mondesir intuitively anticipating where Feraud was going during one of his staggeringly nimble solos, and Husband and McLaughlin trading off against each other in ways that can only be described as telepathic.
l:r Mark Mondesir, Sven Hoffman (sound), Christophe Deghelt, Hadrien Feraud, Gary Husband
McLaughlin's first electric tour of North America in nearly a decade has already generated a remarkable amount of interest and excitement. As much as it will be a chance to hear the guitarist in a leaner, rawer context than the undeniably superb Heart of Things tour, it will also introduce audiences to three artists who deserve far more recognition.
Other than McLaughlin, Husband may be the best known of the group, but most still think of him as a drummer. While there will be some exhilarating moments during the show when Husband will be playing his "jungle kit" alongside Mondesir, what should become crystal clear is that he's as strong a keyboardist as he is a drummer. Husband is not simply a drummer who doubles on the keys: he's an artist whose facility on both instruments assures not two halves, merely, but a greater whole.
Mondesir is a busy, in-demand player in Europe, where he plays with a wide range of artists, but his powerful groove, coupled with monster chops, will be a new experience for many in North America. Feraud who, at twenty-three, possesses a language that surpasses many twice his age, is poised to emerge as a new star of the electric bass. Watching him, seated across from McLaughlin in the intimate confines of the studio, execute lightning-fast unison runs with the guitarist while still managing to hold down the groove with Mondesir, is to witness a rhythm section that few will be able to touch.
By the time the long day of rehearsal wound down around 7:30 PM, there was no doubt that this band was ready.
After the rehearsal, everyone moved on to The Spice and Curry, an Indian restaurant, for an informal "meet- and-greet" get-together with a number of fans and friends of Abstract Logix, the small but motivated fusion storefront and record label that has been instrumental in organizing this tour in conjunction with McLaughlin's road manager Christophe Deghelt.
l:r Mark Mondesir, Jeff Sipe, Gary Husband
It was an opportunity to relax, have a drink and a bite to eat, and to chat with the groupbut also with a number of musicians, writers and just plain fans who have traveled from as far away as India for the group's first show. Amongst the many in attendance: banjoist Ryan Cavanaugh, who is currently ripping it up as a member of saxophonist Bill Evans' Soulgrass group; drummer Jeff Sipe, whose latest release is the stellar collaboration with guitarist Alex Machacek and bassist Matthew Garrison, Improvision (Abstract Logix, 2007); Rod Sibley, who will be traveling with the group for the entire tour and helping out on a variety of fronts; bassist Robert Troy Cole, whose group Jaafar is, in some ways, a Middle Eastern equivalent to McLaughlin's ongoing work with Indian musicians in Remember Shakti and other projects; Walter Kolosky, who has written the definitive history of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra (Abstract Logix Books, 2005); and, of course, Abstract Logix's Souvik Dutta and his family.
It was a great way to end a day that set the stage for what listeners can look forward to from McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension's tour: energy, commitment and chemistry; a sense of open community; and, of course, plenty of risk and the sounds of surprise that will undoubtedly make it one of the most memorable musical events of 2007.
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