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John McLaughlin: Fusion Powerhouse

By Stephen Brookes
The Washington Post • October 2, 2007

McLaughlin.jpg Fusion's back. And back with a vengeance, if John McLaughlin has anything to say about it. The jazz-rock pioneer has grayed a bit since the days when fusion was sort of hip (no, really -- it was!), but at 65 he's still one of the most gifted guitarists on the planet and a force to be reckoned with. And he's determined that fusion will not die -- at least, not on his watch.

That was clear on Friday night, when McLaughlin and his new band, the Fourth Dimension, put on a driving, supercharged show at Lisner Auditorium. This is McLaughlin's first fusion tour in nearly a decade, but he proved he's lost virtually none of the jaw-dropping virtuosity that marked his work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s and Miles Davis before that. The playing blazed, the riffs soared and the effect was of an unstoppable juggernaut -- out to crush nonbelievers beneath its wheels.

And for the first hour, it was pure exhilaration. McLaughlin has put together a ferociously talented band, including Gary Husband on keyboards, Mark Mondesir on drums and the young Frenchman Hadrien Feraud on bass. Husband kicked in some spectacularly off-the-map synth playing, generating warbling flutes, wailing guitars and instruments not yet dreamed of, while Mondesir provided solid, low-key percussion. But the real news of the evening was the 23-year-old Feraud, whose supple, inventive and blindingly fast playing nearly stole the show from McLaughlin himself -- no easy feat.

Yet for all its brilliance, the band finally fell victim to its own unrelenting power. McLaughlin seemed out to overwhelm rather than seduce, and it was only rarely -- as in the moving ballad he played as an encore -- that his lyrical side came to the surface. A shame:  McLaughlin's depths may not be as flashy as his pyrotechnics, but they're far more interesting.

Posted on Wednesday, October 3, 2007 at 09:28AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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