Live Review: John McLaughlin

12 October 2015 | 2:57 pm | Christopher H James

"McLaughlin was streets ahead as a youngster and it still seems that no one's really caught up."

"Hello, Perthlings." A pioneer renowned for playing a pivotal role in Miles Davis' seminal '70s jazz-fusion direction, now silver-maned and 73 years young, John McLaughlin was unfailingly polite as he took to the stage for the first time this tour. He took the time to introduce the members of his accomplished band 4th Dimension — with Gary Husband on electric keys and occasional drums, Mark Mondesir on drums and percussion, and, according to McLaughlin, "the outstanding bass player of his generation" Etienne Mbappe — before premiering the first of a number of songs from his new album Black Light, including a tribute to his former tutor Ravi Shankar named Panditji.

The technical skills on display were formidable, but you didn't need a degree in compositional theory to appreciate the blazing virtuosity here, as you could almost see McLaughlin thinking out loud through rapid-fire style solos.  There were a few covers, including two of Pharoah Sanders' tracks, one of which was his monumental The Creator Has A Master Plan, in which McLaughlin replaced Sanders' epic sustain with a staccato style extrapolation and employed a four-part vocal harmony led by Mondesir's beautiful, rich tones; not the kind you'd expect to hear from a bear-shaped drummer. Meanwhile, Husband with head lowered and scowling like Gordon Ramsey, gently conjured soft, transcendental chords from his digital piano. 

Arguably the outstanding performance of the night belonged to the big man with the power to make a bass talk: Etienne Mbappe. He burst into flames on Hijacked, defying his instrument's limitations as his humongous hands scurried like vast black spiders over the fretboard. The lustrous groove of You Know, You Know made for an understated closer, but was warmly recognised by the assembled masses. The heartiness of the band member's embrace before they walked offstage confirmed their genuine bond.

"The future ain't what it used to be," was a memorable quote from the recently departed baseball great Yogi Berra, and there were echoes of it tonight. McLaughlin was streets ahead as a youngster and it still seems that no one's really caught up, as he carries on exploring a world that's not really jazz, rock or anything you can put a label on. He may be a piece of history now, but his Black Light is still burning bright even after all these years.

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