John McLaughlin knows a few things about playing fast. The 68-year-old McLaughlin, who some consider the fastest jazz guitarist in the world, has been honing his chops over four decades playing on albums like Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way and leading the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Saturday night's two-hour Boulder Theater show proved the fiery guitarist is still fast as hell.
A few minutes into "Raju," the show's opener, McLaughlin was off and running, his fingers rapidly spidering across the neck of his Godin electric. While he can dig into lightning fast licks, the elegant McLaughlin makes playing appear virtually effortless, and he looks relatively tranquil throughout it all.
After subdued take on "The Unknown Dissident," from 1979's Electric Dreams, McLaughlin introduced his group, the 4th Dimension. He said he first met Etienne M'bappe about a decade ago when the bassist was playing in the Zawinul Syndicate. Drummer Mark Mondesir has been playing with McLaughlin since the guitarist's1996 release The Promise. Gary Husband, who has played drums with guitarist Allan Holdsworth and rock group Level 42, played mainly keyboards last night but he did switch over to drums on a few songs, like "The Fine Line," from To the One, McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension's new album inspired by John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.
While McLaughlin played some astonishing solos throughout the show, he also gave the other musicians chances to dig in and stretch out. On "Recovery," also from To the One, M'bappe tore through an extended bass solo with blistering speed and then closing out the tune with some fast unison lines with McLaughlin. Mondesir and Husband's trading off drum solos on "The Fine Line" earned a number of cheers from a nearly packed Boulder Theater.
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Just before starting "Senor C.S.," McLaughlin said the song "was from one old hippie to another old hippie," which was probably referring to Carlos Santana, who McLaughlin wrote the song for. While the song started fairly tame with McLaughlin playing over Husband's synthesizer, it gradually built up momentum during McLaughlin's extended vigorous solo and closed with each player trading fours.
The band kept the energy surging the rocking fusion of "Sully" and the frenetic "Hijacked," which also featuring some blazing unison lines between McLaughlin and M'bappe, the band eased into the ballad "Nostalgia," from the 1984 Mahavishnu Orchestra album, Mahavishnu.
There were more fireworks on the "Mother Tongues/Five Peace Band" medley with more breakneck soloing by McLaughlin and M'bappe and Mondesir and Husband trading off speedy drum licks. It was thrilling way to close out an outstanding show before coming back for the serene encore with "Light at the Edge of World."
Related content: "Guitar guru John McLaughlin's spiritual path has been a long one"
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Personal Bias: No doubt, John McLaughlin is still one of the world's most electrifying guitarists, and he has been for decades.
Random Detail: Etienne M'bappe wore black gloves while playing bass, which I've never see anyone do before.
By the Way: To the One was recently nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category.