Music Reviews

Mosaic Music Fest: John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension | 5/5

Mosaic Music Fest: John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension | 5/5
John McLaughlin at Mosaic Music Festival. Photo: Esplanade (Lijesh Karunakaran)
A night where virtuosity was personified
Published: 9:35 PM, March 12, 2014
Updated: 9:36 PM, March 12, 2014

SINGAPORE — With his resplendent silver locks, jazz fusion maestro John McLaughlin seemed more like a university professor than a legendary jazz guitarist. And indeed, it was a masterclass performance that McLaughlin delivered with his current quartet, the 4th Dimension (Gary Husband on keyboards/drums, Etienne M’Bappe on electric bass, and Ranjid Barot on drums), at the Esplanade Concert Hall for this year’s Mosaic Music Festival.

When you consider that McLaughlin is in his early 70s, it was truly remarkable that he played the guitar in the same phenomenal way that he did all those years ago with Tony Williams Lifetime and Mahavishnu Orchestra. McLaughlin has described his current group of musical collaborators as the best musicians he has ever played with and at the end of a concert that ran slightly over 90 minutes, everyone in attendance would have hesitated to claim that as an exaggeration.

And that was precisely the key to the 4th Dimension’s success. The synergy among the players is a sight to behold, and as amazing as McLaughlin still is as a guitarist, he was more than matched and supported by his highly skilled collaborators. Right from the get go, it was clear that the band was a finely oiled machine able to deliver the intricately woven jazz fusion songs with much aplomb. The understanding amongst the quartet was quite uncanny, almost telepathic. Best part of all, it was obvious that the 4th Dimension were simply enjoying the connection on stage, translating into a magical show for those fortunate enough to be there.

That said, Guitar Love started rather tentatively, a smooth jazz number that did not seem to really stretch the players. Still, that was just the proverbial calm before the storm. The sheer power and dynamism of the 4th Dimension was demonstrated in jazz-rock infernos like Little Miss Valley (subtly built on a 12 bar blues progression) and Call and Answer (where Husband showed his versatility on the drums). What was mind-boggling was the manner in which Husband was able to shift between these instrumentals effortlessly without missing a beat.

Hijacked was in a similar vein — a shuffling rhythm providing the platform for instrumental interplays. First, between McLaughlin and M’Bappe (distinctive in his black gloves) as they mirrored each other note for note in a shimmering cascade of riffs; and second, between Husband and Barot as they engaged in a percussive duel which had the audience gawking at such technical virtuosity.

But in-between these jazz-rockers, McLaughlin and company were able lower the pace with the Carlos Santana tribute Senor CS and Abbaji, a hippie-fied chill out anthem that had the band singing (!) about “love and understanding”.

Along the way, the band also re-interpreted two ‘60s jazz-pop classics from Pharaoh Sanders viz. The Creator Has A Master Plan and Light At The Edge Of The World, reflecting McLaughlin’s spiritual world-view.

The performances were so hypnotic that the time simply flew by and before the audience knew it, they were giving the band a well-deserved prolonged standing ovation. Clearly, a splendid time was had by all. Simply astonishing.