and the Art of Jazz Fusion
John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
Egg, Sept. 25
FUSion legend John McLaughlin could rightly be termed the
first guitar shredder, and his recent stop at the Egg’s nearly
full Hart Theatre showed that the 65-year-old still has the
technical speed and facility that first won him international
renown four decades back. Spontaneity seemed to be the byword
for McLaughlin and his talented band, and they wasted no time
in setting a pace for hyper-charged improvisation with the
evening’s first tune, “Raju,” with McLaughlin leaving plenty
of room for his fellow musicians to shine between his Coltrane-inspired
cascades of sound. Next was a cover of Miles Davis’ “Jean
Pierre,” its opening pulse giving way to a bluesy tangent
reminiscent of John Scofield’s explorations with Medeski,
Martin and Wood.
There’s no doubt that many in attendance were looking for
the fire-breathing days of the Mahavishnu Orchestra; the 4th
Dimension proved to be a subtler but no-less-impassioned beast.
Twenty-three-year-old bass wunderkind Hadrien Feraud threatened
to steal the show during the appropriately titled “Hijacked,”
displaying a technique that was almost cybernetic in its speed
but unerring in its attention to the groove and tonal center
(though in this type of fusion, where notes are diffused into
fractals, the tonal center can admittedly be many places at
Keyboardist Gary Husband played the most compelling melodies
of the night, his style encompassing everything from freaky
Jan Hammer-isms to cerebral forays into Bill Evans and Keith
Jarrett territory. “Unknown Dissident” was a welcome respite
from the speed trials, a slow-burning selection from 1978’s
Electric Dreams release that set the audience up for
“Mother Tongues.” That exploration in polyrhythm had Mark
Mondesir (an exceptional drummer whose grasp of band dynamics
verged upon the telepathic) dueling with both the band leader
and Husband, who left his keyboards throughout the night to
bash out a glorious racket on what he calls his “jungle kit”—a
spare drum set with a couple of seriously warped cymbals.
The resultant drum battle brought to mind the ferocity of
For an encore the group played a meditative pass through “The
Light at the Edge of the World,” a song previously performed
with Carlos Santana, fellow guitar hero and, like McLaughlin,
a resolute seeker into the spiritual. Paradoxically, the bravura
of McLaughlin’s playing may sometimes be mistaken for egotism,
but this memorable performance confirmed that McLaughlin plays
like lightning not to show off, but to try to slip the surly
bonds of the earthly.
Don Preston and the Akashic Ensemble
at Albany Performing Arts Center, Oct. 1
was in a rock band for 30 years!”
That was Don Preston’s way of explaining that if his damaged
ears were going to hear the question, the audience member
was going to have to speak up. For an audience of mostly students
and faculty at the University at Albany’s PAC Recital Hall,
the composer-musician—an ex-Mother of Invention and early
synthesizer enthusiast, on his “75th anniversary” tour—was
as entertaining as he was thoughtful.
kind of message are you sending to the audience,” a man asked.
I’m playing?” Preston puzzled. “I don’t know.”
The two-hour-long session was evenly divided between talking
and playing. Before getting to the things he had to say about
Frank Zappa and the Mothers, let’s get to the really interesting
part of the afternoon (the show started at 4 PM)—Preston and
the Akashic Ensemble’s set. The ensemble is Project/Object
founder and guitarist André Cholmondeley and electronic percussionist/multi-loopster
Cheri Jiosne; they were joined by two capable UAlbany students,
Lee Tanner (vibes) and Daniel Meddalone (bass).
First up was “Solo Piece.” Preston, working his magic on a
couple of synths and a Mac laptop all by himself, began by
conjuring low, swirling tones around a single repeated note.
He quickly segued into high-end space noise with an undergirding
of percussive chunkiness—and then handed it off to the Meddalone.
The bassist did his spacey-noisy thing all by himself, and
then turned “Solo Piece”—get it?—over to Cholmondeley. And
so to Tanner on vibes, and then Jiosne, who conjured harsh
(but not grating) percussion music from her magic laptop.
Finally, all joined together in an electronic swirl that was
a blend, not a clash.
After “Part Preston,” with its Indian- Middle Eastern influences,
Preston and the ensemble dug deep into the Zappa songbook
and pulled out “Help, I’m a Rock.” This complex, experimental
1966 epic remains angry, avant garde and hilarious. With alternately
goofy and incantory vocals set over some very sharp musical
shards, it was ragged and transcendent.
And what did Preston say about Zappa? He had known him since
1961, and played with the Mothers from 1966-74.
How did Zappa write music?
every way possible,” he explained, “on paper . . . in his
head.” And even in the rehearsal hall: “I’ve never seen anyone
else do that,” Preston said.
How did Zappa, as a guitarist and composer, get to be Zappa?
You have to look at his influences, Preston said. “Stravinsky,
Varese, Bartók, Elliott Carter, Roger . . . Roger Crumb, the
insurance salesman . . . what was his name?” (A number of
people shout out, “Charles Ives!”)
Preston (and the rest of the original band) eventually had
legal problems with Zappa—over royalties, of course. How does
he feel about FZ now?
I still love his music. And I love him for writing that music.”
Grammy nominee Steve Vai brought his eccentric and
electrifying mastery of the electric guitar to the Hart Theater
at the Egg on Tuesday. Backed by a six-piece band, the former
Zappa sideman turned in a two-and-a-half hour set that featured
three costume changes but, sadly, no “Yankee Rose.”