John McLaughlin Meeting Of the Minds: The Making of Floating Point Abstract Logix
"It's the music that drives everything" says H Sridhar, chief audio engineer of John McLaughlin's outstanding new CD Floating Point (Abstractlogix, 2008), a recording session well-documented on this DVD. One cannot but agree with this observation for, despite the banks of computers and a mixing desk the size of a small battleship in the setting of the sophisticated AM studio in Chennai, it is the power of McLaughlin's musical arrangements, inspiring the musicians around him to perform as if their lives depended on it, that impresses the viewer.
Optional commentary by McLaughlin gives some insight into his recording process, and he reveals an approach to writing echoing that of the great Duke Ellington: "I like to write for people, it's true. When I write music, in the arrangement of that piece I like to have an idea in my mind who will be playing such and such an instrument." The musicians he had in mind are of a generation of Indian musicians more than familiar with Western musical idioms, particularly jazz, and it is a thrill to watch them improvise. Drummer Ranjit Barot, at the centre of everything, really burns it up. His Indian rhythms wed with jazzfusion polyrhythms make for compelling viewing.
Rhythm indeed is key to this music, and the tool by which the musicians communicate. As McLaughlin and Selvaganesh Vinayakram pointed out on their instructional DVD The Gateway to Rhythm, (Abstractlogix, 2007), the centuries-old, Indian rhythmic vocal system of Konocol can be adapted effectively to any music, a practice clearly apparent on Meeting of the Minds as Western modes meet Indian ragas.
In spite of the brilliance of these musicians, it is not even for them always a simple matter to fuse diverse musical traditions. In a lovely metaphor, electric sitar player Niladri Kumar likens the Eastern tradition to a river and the Western harmonic tradition to an elephant: ..".so I try to understand the elephant, see what are the aspects of the elephant, and then I try to put that elephant in the river. I walk that elephant to the river..." We then see him playing a solo likely to leave viewers smiling and shaking their heads in wonder.
Hindustani electric slide-guitarist Debashish Bhattachayra comes to a conclusion similar to Niladri Kumar's, though in less poetic terms: "To me there is no East and West. I feel music is all about the expression in the melodic phrases." His own phrasing, measured and fresh, is as beautiful as the stunning look of the slide-guitar he designed himself.
Keyboardist Louiz Banks, a classically-trained pianist inspired by Herbie Hancock, sums up his take on jazz: "Another name for jazz? Freedom"a credo that Meeting of the Minds reminds us is shared by McLaughlin, who encourages the musicians to express themselves. U. Rajesh's electric mandolin wizardry, percussionist Shivamani's "cosmic dust" interjections, Shankhar Mahavedan's impressive, searching vocals and McLaughlin's own exchanges with the extraordinary bamboo flautist Naveen Kumar are pure expressions of freedom, and their obvious enjoyment is contagious. When they wrap up five days in the studio with Kumar and McLaughlin's wonderful exchange on "1 4 U," which McLaughlin describes in the most understated manner as "like a little conversation," H Sridhar exclaims: "They could go on for another hour!" and the truth is you wish they would.
Personnel: John McLaughlin: guitar synthesizer, guitar; Hadrien Feraud: bass guitar; Louiz Banks: keyboards; Ranjit Barot: drums; Sivamani: percussion, konokol; George Brooks: soprano saxophone; Debashish Bhattacharya: Hindustani slide guitar; Shashank: bamboo flute; Shankar Mahadevan: voice; U Rajesh: electric mandolin; Naveen Kumar: bamboo flute; Niladri Kumar: sitar.
Recorded April 26-30, AM Studios, Chennai, India. Running Time: 90 minutes. Produced and directed by Ina and John McLaughlin; cameraman: Sarangarajan; 2nd and 3rd cameras: R. Samuel and Dipthi; Audio Engineer: H. Sridhar; assistant engineer: Aditya Modi; technical co-ordinator: S. Silvakumar; video editing: Sarangarajan: video post production: Turnstone; DVD authoring, video editing: John Bouchet, uLynx; photography: Ina McLaughlin. NTSC All-Region.