For an hour last night—and only an hour—several hundred Twin Citians got to be in the same room with guitarist John McLaughlin, the demigod of machine-gun jazz.
McLaughlin’s stop at the Dakota was among the first of what’s being billed as the “Live USA 2007” tour, which includes a band—the 4th Dimension—and a dozen or so rapid-fire guitar breaks interspersed with some equally blistering breaks on bass, keyboards, and drums. At times, the playing was so deliriously fast that it sounded less like music and more like an exercise in how to cram as many notes as possible into a given point in space and time. The musical statement of the evening seemed to be, “The fourth dimension is out there, and we’re going to find it, damnit.” In the meantime, those of us back in the third dimension got to watch their fingers move.
And move they did. Really, John McLaughlin ought to do an Aleve commercial. The guy is in his mid-sixties, but it’s clear his finger joints are greased with some sort of age-defying lubricant. He’s got fabulous hair too—a thick white mane of gray blow-dried all the way back to the 1970s—so maybe there’s a shampoo commercial in his future too.
I only saw the first set but, musically speaking, the truth of the matter was that it was a hit-and-miss set from a group of stellar musicians who are still trying to figure out precisely how they fit together. The group only had its first rehearsal together less than a week ago, on September 11, and is now embarked on a national tour—which says something about their collective confidence. Besides, rehearsing together may not matter in this case, because the official slogan of the tour is “Just Improvise,” so what people are really watching is one of McLaughlin’s many musical experiments in progress.
The vibe is all electric this time, with some computer high jinks thrown in. McLaughlin appears to have rediscovered the whammy bar on his electric guitar, at times playing around with some woozy space sounds, and keyboardist Gary Husband had some sampling fun on his Roland, particularly during an eerily convincing flute solo.
The surprise discovery of the night for Twin Cities jazz fans was twenty-three-year-old bass phenom Hadrien Feraud, from France, whom the jazz press has already anointed as the rightful heir to Jaco Pastorius’s gilded crown. He, too, can play extremely fast, and when he and McLaughlin go head to head, tossing riffs back and forth like a hand grenade, the result is the sort of thing that musical speed junkies live for.
Feraud is one of those sickeningly talented kids that the gods of music produce every now and then to taunt everyone else in the world who is trying to improve through old-fashioned practice. Feraud plays like he was born with the history of bass in his fingers, and it doesn’t help that he looks like he hit puberty on the flight over from Paris. Tellingly, the first items to sell out at the merchandise kiosk outside were Feraud’s CDs, and this tour is sure to raise his profile in the U.S.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that McLaughlin and crew may have played their way into some sort of intergalactic wormhole where time stopped and it felt like they were playing for six hours, but an hour was all us spiritually inferior earth-dwellers got to see. If first-setters wanted more McLaughlin last night, they had to pay for the second set. There was no encore, either, just a friendly bow and a few blown kisses.
In the fourth dimension, apparently, they don’t do dessert.