We Know We Know: John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension, Live from St. Andrews

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Two days.

Apparently, it takes two days to come back to blogging about your favourite jazz guitarist after having witnessed him live in concert. 5th April 2014 was surely a day of epic proportions!

Instant karma sure did get me. After performing in Chennai on the 4th, John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension were scheduled to play live at St. Andrews Auditorium, Bandra on the 5th of April in Mumbai. Now, McLaughlin - a legend who is, spiritually, an 'Indian' - has visited the country on many occasions, spanning a few decades. However, witnessing him live - be it your fourth or your 34th time - is, always, a jump-off-your-seat moment.

The event being sponsored by Black Dog Easy Evenings meant that patrons and connoisseurs would be lapping up an evening of refreshments and straight-up jazz fusion. The mini-bar set up by the event sponsors sure did keep spirits alive as people wet their whistles before and during the interval of the concert. But absolutely nothing could steal the limelight away from these legendary showstoppers who were about to mesmerize us for the next few hours.

The 4th Dimension is Ranjit Barot on drums (keeping the Indian flag waving high), the gloved Etienne M'Bappe on bass, the multi-instrumentalist Gary Husband on keys (and drums!), and 'Mahavishnu' John McLaughlin on the electric guitar. But on stage, they are a singular, collective force, a powerhouse of soundscapes and melodies - something that has been synonymous with McLaughlin for all these years. They did not have to make an effort to elicit a thunderous applause from the packed auditorium, as they took to their instruments. Thus began the roller-coaster ride.

In his usual playful self, McLaughlin set off, digging into his setlist. Since the band is currently touring for their latest album, The Boston Record, Saturday's set was packed with many compositions off the album. His distorted electric guitar yielded the deepest and most intricate of jazz scales, as the band moved through 'Raju', 'Little Miss Valley', 'Senor C.S.', etc. 'Abbaji' had Ranjit Barot stepping in on vocals, with backing vocals provided by the rest of the members. It was a confluence of several kindred spirits - not just genres, but different emotions as well. A land where the soulful, yet, turbulent sounds of the electric guitar meet the bouncy rhythm of the bass and the fluid, clinking keyboards - all held together by the percussive, pounding notes of the drums. As they headed towards a break, the crowd was left thrilled, and hungry for more!

The second half would go on to explain how a jazz concert is different from others. While the first half was for all the ears in the audience, what followed then was for purely for the senses. Now, if you're a John McLaughlin fan, you'd expect him to tick two things off your checklist. One of them is the konokol. The legendary guitarist brings this Indian vocal percussion technique into his performances, with the band as well as the crowd digging into it like an amusing experiment being performed on stage. What's furthermore overwhelming is that it was Barot, and not McLaughlin, who kicked off the proceedings. And to take things to an altogether new high, Gary Husband tiptoed quietly from his chair to the alternate drum set, beginning a jugalbandi-of-sorts with Barot, mid-song! Extended drum and bass guitar solos followed. Seated, the crowd was simply grooving to the beats - I doubt they had a choice at that point!

While their set came to an end, the band bowed and exited the stage, leaving the crowd hungry for 'that one encore song'. People would refuse to vacate the auditorium. And that is when the second thing would get ticked off the checklist. I think McLaughlin hit those notes on the first chord, and somebody in the crowd yelled, 'You Know You Know'…. After that, the shrieks wouldn't just stop for the next few minutes. A short history about the song here: 'You Know You Know' is a piece composed by Mahavishnu Orchestra, McLaughlin's raucous electric jazz-fusion project in the '70s. This song has seen various renditions with several of McLaughlin's collaborations. It has become a staple of his concerts, and our lives.

So, for the next four minutes, I enjoyed my rollercoaster ride back to the '70s. After which, they 'finally' exited stage. Before I could snap out of it, I was already home. But damn, the concert never really ended......

Article by - Aneesh Nadkarni

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