Guitarist McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension tour kicks off Tuesday
Guitarist John McLaughlin has undergone many musical incarnations during his 71 years. Many fans had their first exposure to his music in the early 1970s, when his Mahavishnu Orchestra helped define the fusion sound. Since then, McLaughlin’s many projects have included tribute albums to John Coltrane and Bill Evans, recordings and concerts with Indian music in the group Shakti, and a recording with full orchestra of his guitar concerto “Thieves and Poets.”
For the past 10 years, he has toured and recorded (between other projects) with the quartet the 4th Dimension, which will inaugurate its 2013 U.S. tour with a concert Tuesday at the Carolina Theatre. “It’s a marvelous group,” McLaughlin said in a phone interview from his home in Monaco. The group has had a few personnel changes since it began. At the Carolina Theatre, the lineup will be McLaughlin, Gary Husband on keyboards, Etienne M’Bappe on bass, and Ranjit Barot, who became the permanent drummer last year.
The 4th Dimension emerged when McLaughlin got an invitation from the cultural minister of Reunion (an island near Madagascar) to perform there. He contacted Husband, drummer Mark Mondesir and other musicians. “We did these concerts, and it was such a pleasure that I had it in my mind to continue this,” McLaughlin said.
They recorded a live album in 2009, followed by “To the One” in 2010, and “Now Here This,” which was released last year. After he finished “Thieves and Poets,” 4th Dimension “became like a permanent institution that has remained to this day,” McLaughlin said.
“I’m very happy we’re coming to America,” he said, particularly since Barot, who replaced Mondesir on drums, will be making his first visit to the United States with 4th Dimension. He has known Barot since the mid-1990s, when they played in India. “We had a marvelous time together. When Mark [Mondesir] left, he was at the top of my list to call. … He’s just a phenomenal drummer,” McLaughlin said.
At Tuesday’s concert, the audience will hear some of the compositions on “Now Here This,” but also from the Mahavishnu days (“I’m still fond of those old tunes,” he said), all the way to the present. “It’s kind of a wide spectrum that you’re going to hear,” McLaughlin said. The tune “Echos from Then” from the newest album has a Mahavishu-type sound, he said. Later this year, Shakti will tour: “If you listen closely, you’ll hear Mahavishnu included in there. … I can’t really separate them. It’s part of my history,” he said.
He attributes his eclectic, wide-open ears to his mother, who was a classical violinist. McLaughlin began taking piano, and then guitar. “When I was 11, the guitar arrived, and I just went nuts,” he said. “She’s never far from me,” he said of his guitars. His brothers introduced him to the blues during his teen years “when the blues boom really hit the U.K. It really affected me dramatically,” McLaughlin said. “All of a sudden I’m hearing Mississippi Delta blues guitar playing [which] really blew my mind. Fantastic!”
He also was listening to Flamenco music, Indian music, and then, about the time of the “Milestones” release, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. “I was swept away by this music. I knew this was my music, my school,” he said. “I’m hearing Miles Davis and Coltrane and I’m saying, I need to hear a guitar player in this band.” He would play guitar on Davis’ groundbreaking releases “In a Silent Way,” “Bitches Brew” and “Jack Johnson.”
“My whole life changed when I got invited by [drummer] Tony Williams to play in Lifetime. Miles was waiting for a guitar player, and he scooped me up,” McLaughlin said. Asked if he ever imagined being Davis’ guitar player, he said “No. Never. Not in a thousand lifetimes. I think in the end love is what makes things work. Miles must have known how much I revered him. Miles must have felt that. … What he wanted was for everybody to be themselves in the concept of his music, which wasn’t difficult because it was so beautiful.”
Musically, “discovery happens every day. I keep my spirit alive,” McLaughlin said. “I feel the machine getting older, but musically I’ve never felt better. I’m not planning on retiring in the very near future.”
Want to go?
WHAT: John McLaughlin with The 4th Dimension
WHEN: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St.
ADMISSION: Tickets start at $35. To purchase, call 919-560-3030 or visit www.carolinatheatre.org.