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John McLaughlin And the 4th Dimension: The Boston Record

Album Review

Guitar magician and band captured one memorable night last year.

Trust John McLaughlin to conquer another Dimension! From the moment he and the band hit the ground rocking on Raju, you can almost smell the octane of this performance on a rare US tour in June of last year, in the august surroundings of Berklee College of Music in Boston. Forty five years since his solo debut with Extrapolation and 50 since he was paying rhythm and blues dues with the likes of Georgie Fame and Brian Auger, McLaughlin doesn’t need to play another note for his place at the absolute pinnacle of his profession to be assured. But that doesn’t mean that The Boston Record is anything other than an invigorating refresher from start to finish.

The guitar sorcerer comes out of the traps at top speed on that typically intricate opener, but generously, and repeatedly, leaves plenty of room for almost equal billing of his stellar sidemen. On that opener, it’s Gary Husband’s piano that shares the spotlight, and he’s front and centre at the organ for the ensuing, near 10-minute Little Miss Valley, the pair ably supported by Etienne Mbappé on bass and Ranjit Barot, who shares drum duties with Husband. 

Already by this stage, the intense yet loose-limbed cohesion of this quartet is recalling the intuitive spark of Weather Report at their finest. Barot weighs in with some gently soulful vocals on Abbaji, and scats acrobatically on Echoes From Then, on which McLaughlin wields a mighty riff. The bandmaster himself has said he’s particularly delighted with the whole business, from the quality of the recording and the collective playing to the responsiveness of the audience, which gel in a way that happens on a live album all too rarely. 

Husband co-stars again with a piano tour de force on Call & Answer, in a performance every bit as dexterous as the one that complements it by John himself. That track and Echoes From Then both took their place in the set from McLaughlin’s most recent studio record with the 4th Dimension, 2012’s warmly-received Now Here This

The disc, and the evening, draw towards a close as the loudest cheer of the night greets the opening of You Know, You Know, introduced on the first Mahavishnu album The Inner Mounting Flame in 1971 (and sampled far and wide, from Massive Attack to David Sylvian). Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer and co may be absent, but their spirit isn’t. 

Partly because of the relative rarity of his tours, and partly in the way it captures the unique ambience of one night in Massachusetts, this is a record in every sense.

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