John McLaughlin is hitting a stride with the 4th Dimension, a group we can all safely think of as a Mahavishnu Orchestra for this century. With just two studio albums to their name, To the One and Now Here This, the group has unleashed this live recording with their current lineup of McLaughlin, Gary Husband, Etienne Mbappe and Ranjit Barot. The Boston Record was recorded while the legendary fusion jazz guitarist and his new band were doing an American summer tour in 2013. Recorded in Boston (of course), it fulfills all of the musician’s hopes for an in-concert recording. How do I know that? He said so himself. On his website, you’ll find this little nugget of self-praise: “From time to time, a live record is made that has everything: great collective playing, a terrific audience, fantastic recorded sound, and a wonderful atmosphere. In the new recording of our concert you’ll find all of the above. I’m really happy about this recording.”
He is not just blowing smoke. The Boston Record rocks dangerously. Hearing McLaughlin’s warm-yet-edgy tone combined with such nimble finger work, it’s difficult to believe that he’s reached the age of 72 with all of these skills and more intact. The rest of 4th Dimension are not only not slouches, but they exceed in their departments as well. Ranjit Barot in particular is a powerful drummer. His fills and solos can leave a pack of mangled Max Roach-wanna-be’s in his wake. There’s a “Moby Dick” moment on The Boston Record that can, if you’re not careful, distract you from the fact that this is actually a John McLaughlin album. Gary Husband’s aligning keyboard performances and Etienne Mbappe’s dancing bass suggest that the band was gaining special momentum on this tour, one that they had to capture.
The 4th Dimension don’t draw very heavily from their two studio albums for this live set. Only two songs from Now Here This are performed, “Echos From Then” and “Call & Answer”, and nothing appears from To the One. The everything else comes from McLaughlin’s extensive back catalog, including the Mahavishnu Orchestra number “You Know You Know” to close out the set. Ranjit Barot gets two turns at a vocal mic. “Abbaji”, one of the most laid back moments on the album, has Barot moaning about “love and understanding” in a most soulful mouthful (the song comes from Floating Point, the album where McLaughlin first worked with Barot). And it’s on “Echos From Then” where the scat singing matches energy with the furious fusion.
And this is probably the grandest feather in The Boston Record‘s cap, that being its enormous energy. The 4th Dimension can pack all of the punch of a live-wire rock band into the atmosphere of a adrenaline-charged political rally. And listening to it straight through presents a new challenge — finding something to put on when it’s over. Almost anything else feels decaffeinated by comparison. At least that’s how it felt when listening at my desk at work, time and time again, after The Boston Record‘s nine tracks and 63 minutes were done with me. Where to go from there? 8:30 by Weather Report? With all due respect, no way.