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John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension: The Boston Record

John Kelman By

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Ever since guitarist John McLaughlin formed the 4th Dimension—his first electric fusion band in a decade—fans have been hoping he'd dig a little further into his back catalog. The wait is over with The Boston Record, a live album recorded in 2013 at Boston's Berklee College of Music.

This isn't 4th Dimension's first live album, though it is the first to feature the seven year-old group's current configuration. Ranjit Barot, first heard with McLaughlin on Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2009), replaced drummer Mark Mondesir on Now Here This (Abstract Logix, 2013), and is as outrageously virtuosic as ever; the equally impressive bassist Etienne Mbappe is back too, as is serious double-threat keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband—the only other remaining member of 4th Dimension's inaugural lineup and clearly an increasingly important musical collaborator.

Now Here This came under some fire for its drum-heavy mix; The Boston Record is more equitably balanced. McLaughlin's recent tone has also been criticized, but from the first power chords of the opening "Raju"—the group's standard opener from Floating Point, but which never gets old—it's clear that, while not quite as heavily fuzz-toned as in his Mahavishnu Orchestra days, the guitarist has returned to a far grungier tone that better suits the high octane, pedal-to-the-metal fusion which dominates much of The Boston Record.

The last time this group released a live document—2008's Official Pirate: Best of the American Tour 2007 (Abstract Logix)—it didn't have any material of its own; with Now Here This and its predecessor, the John Coltrane-inspired To the One (Abstract Logix, 2010), the 4th Dimension now has a repertoire on which to draw. From Now Here This, the group delivers the fast-paced "Call & Answer," featuring one of Husband's best solos of the set and a truly epic drum feature over an irregular-metered ostinato, while the equally odd-metered shuffle of "Echos from Then" harkens back to "The Dance of the Maya," from Mahavishnu Orchestra's groundbreaking debut, The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971). Despite little abatement in the 63-minute set, Floating Point's "Maharina" does provide some respite, though with McLaughlin's searing lines, it's not without its own impressive power.

It's also great to hear McLaughlin and the group dig into older material like the altered blues of "Little Miss Valley," from the guitarist's Tokyo Live (Verve, 1994), where Mbappe lets loose some serious pyrotechnics, and the knotty, high velocity "Hijacked," from Que Alegria (Verve, 1992). But the biggest—and best—surprise is saved for last, a set-closing updated look at Inner Mounting Flame's "You Know You Know," where the ever-playful McLaughlin quotes everyone from Miles Davis ("Jean-Pierre") to Jimi Hendrix ("Foxy Lady"). It's the first time McLaughlin has looked back to the group that broke his career, but it's more than a piece of nostalgia; it demonstrates that his music is, indeed, timeless—sounding as fresh today as it did 43 years ago.

At 72, McLaughlin isn't just at the top of his game; with his best (and longest-standing) fusion group since his breakthrough/breakout days of the early '70s, The Boston Record documents an artist still vital, still treading new ground—and still as relevant as ever.

Track Listing: Raju; Little Miss Valley; Abbaji; Echos from Then; Senor C.S.; Call & Answer; Maharina; Hijacked; You Know You Know.

Personnel: John McLaughlin: guitar; Gary Husband: keyboards, drums; Etienne Mbappe: bass; Ranjit Barot: drums.

Title: The Boston Record | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Abstract Logix

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