|John Mclaughlin and Gary Husband
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas
(Barbican, Sunday 11th November. London Jazz Festival. Review by Chris Parker. Photo by Roger Thomas)
John McLaughlin’s arrival on stage in the Barbican Hall was greeted by some audience members with a brief standing ovation, and there was, throughout this exhilarating concert, a feeling that the faithful had gathered to mark the return of a favourite son. He himself, introducing keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, referred to their shared Yorkshire roots by lapsing into his original North Country accent, and at one point he paid tribute to UK fans by pointing out that it was their initial and continuing support that had enabled him to carve out his illustrious career in music.
Now 70, but looking sleek and elegant as ever, McLaughlin may have been in a mellow mood, but his music is as powerful and hard-hitting as it ever was, and in the multi-talented Husband, bassist Etienne M’Bappe and drummer Ranjot Barot he has found the perfect band to showcase it. They began with the opening number from their recent album Now Here This, ‘Trancefusion’, a typical McLaughlin theme full of blistering runs punctuated by jagged, choppy chords riding on a tumultuous mix of tumbling drums, punchy bass and chattering keyboards.
Without a break, they eased into a bluesy number with a big backbeat, the irresistibly catchy ‘Little Miss Valley’ from the early-1990s Free Spirits repertoire, and thereafter the quartet continued in this vein, promiscuously mixing something old (‘Hijacked’ from 1992’s Qué Alegría) and something new (‘Call and Answer’, a feature for Husband’s drums and keyboards) with something borrowed (Pharoah Sanders’s sumptuously spiritual ballad ‘The Light at the Edge of the World’) and something blue. Although the lion’s share of the soloing was inevitably allotted to McLaughlin’s uniquely fluent, alternately raw and sweet-toned guitar, M’Bappe shone in his solo spots, mysteriously conjuring deft but funky improvisations from gloved hands, and both the exuberant but crisp Barot and the supremely musicianly Husband played impeccably throughout. By the time McLaughlin eased into his short, but intensely heartfelt encore, Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, he had, without resorting to pushing too many nostalgia buttons, undoubtedly pulled off that trickiest of feats, staging a triumphant homecoming.
|Arun Ghosh and the Twin Tenors
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas
In all the (entirely justifiable) excitement wrapped up in this superb display by a world-class jazz legend, it would be easy to overlook the part played, in raising the crowd’s energy level at the start of proceedings, by clarinettist Arun Ghosh. His is a relatively straightforward musical formula: he takes sinuous South Asian themes, sets them to a heavy jazz-funk beat (provided by bassist Neil Charles and drummer Rastko Rasic) and then basically plays the hell out of them with the help of the vigorous but skilled tenor players Idris Rahman and Wayne Francis. It can be a daunting task opening for a highly anticipated act of such stature, but Ghosh performed it with such great aplomb (and modest dignity) that the strict telling-off given to one critic (as he took his seat for McLaughlin, having been absent for the introductory act) by another – “You’ve just missed one of the best festival opening acts I’ve ever seen” – was entirely understandable.
Yes, superb musicians playing with fantastic dexterity. But “as powerful and hard hitting as it ever was”? I don't think so. The virtuosity remains but the fire has gone out, what is left is the empty shell. Rather sad to be thinking all the time “it would be really great to see the original Mahavishnu Orchestra”. Still, all those great albums remain. If you want to see an artist whose music is still alive when he's 70, go and see John Cale. Dr Love