sun 21/07/2024

John McLaughlin / Hedvig Mollestad, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

John McLaughlin / Hedvig Mollestad, Royal Festival Hall

John McLaughlin / Hedvig Mollestad, Royal Festival Hall

Beautiful collaboration and beastly guitar-playing in a stunning jazz fusion gig

John McLaughlin, leading a happy musical family

John McLaughlin made history at the Royal Festival Hall 25 years ago when he recorded a superb album featuring Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu. Last night’s performance with his fusion quartet 4th Dimension was not epochal in quite that way. The repertoire and style was largely familiar, much of it released on the band’s album earlier this year, the pieces in many cases reworked from earlier McLaughlin material.

But it was remarkable for the excellence and of the ensemble playing. The sensitivity and sheer quality of interaction within the band embodied the interest in loving spirituality that drives much of McLaughlin’s work perhaps more convincingly than the lyrics the band sung.  

In bassist Etienne Mbappe, keyboardist and drummer Gary Husband, and percussionist Ranjit Barot, McLaughlin has six of the slickest musical hands in the business. Mbappe stood out for the exhilarating combination of acrobatic articulation and a stinging, gritty tone, but Husband, nimble on synths and relentless on drums, toyed delightfully with both harmony and rhythm, while Barot combined bursts of massive power with witty, ticklish rhythmic flourishes. By his own awesome standards, McLaughlin was relatively restrained, playing a couple of explosive solos, but didn’t dominate as he sometimes can. The gig was all the better for it, not because his explosive solos are not scintillating, but because instead of a spotlight on one player, there was a collective performance of great intelligence. Even on the most powerfully rocking pieces, the interaction between band members was beautiful, instinctive and intimate, as rhythms and melodies overlapped.   

This festival debut will have marked the beginning of a special Anglo-Norwegian friendship

All four band members sang at some point: Barot vocalised throughout to support his rhythm, Mbappe and Husband, who don’t look like natural vocalists, and McLaughlin, who does look like a vocalist, but on the evidence of the (admittedly momentary) dirge of “The Creator Has A Master Plan” and “Abbaji”, probably isn’t, all sang the choruses. The songs (as opposed to the instrumental pieces) were the least convincing for the uncommitted members of the audience, sentimental and soupy rather than bitingly virtuosic. But the ideas of collaboration and harmony shone through in the playing. Collective semi-improvisation doesn’t get much better. By the time they played “Mother Tongues” at the end of the evening, the band all looked supremely relaxed, and their ovation was thoroughly merited.

Support came from the Norwegian Hedvig Mollestad Trio, with lead guitarist Mollestad, clearly pregnant, a superb role model as well as atmospheric prog guitarist of the highest standard. Their rather kitsch red and white outfits gave them the air of off-duty stewardesses, but there was nothing remotely twee about the massive walls of sound, layered into quivering, spine-tingling sheets with liberal use of the loop pedal and tremolo arm. Ellen Brekken was both monstrous and introspective on electric and acoustic bass, while drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad thundered and tingled. With the sonic impact of a serious metal outfit, but the rhythmic playfulness of a jazz trio, this festival debut will have marked the beginning of a special Anglo-Norwegian friendship.  

The interaction between band members was beautiful, instinctive and intimate, as rhythms and melodies overlapped


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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