John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension in Mumbai: You know you know when it's a great gig

All memorable concerts end with an earworm, a piece of melody that lingers in one's brain. It happened to me, and probably many others, on Thursday night (8 February 2018). We were just walking down the stairs of the Royal Opera, confused between pour homme and pour femme fragrances, casual tees and formalwear.

John McLaughlin had played after all, with his band the 4th Dimension, in an event organised by The Quarter. It wasn't a long gig and lasted an hour, 42 minutes and 37 seconds without a break, as per my mid-budget Titan watch. But we walked down, humming their encore piece 'You Know You Know', attracting glares from those who wondered how I knew the name of a tune McLaughlin didn't announce.

Obviously, McLaughlin — John Ji as most musicians and some music journalists like me call him — has a huge fan following in India. His 1970s bands Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti have had a great many of devotees over the years. He smiles on stage and the audience gets goose-flesh. Imagine what would happen when he plays those rapid-fire guitar riffs.

It happened to me on Thursday night, bang on from the first note they played. Etienne M'Bappe, Gary Husband without his wife on keyboards, and Nepean Sea Road chokra Ranjit Barot on drums.

John McLaughlin, Etienne M'Bappe, Ranjit Barot and Gary Husband on stage. Photo by Pankaj Kehr via Twitter/@GHusband

John McLaughlin, Etienne M'Bappe, Ranjit Barot and Gary Husband on stage. Photo by Pankaj Kehr via Twitter/@GHusband

Nobody recognised the first tune. They loved it. McLaughlin announced it was called 'The Ji's' and was dedicated to late mandolin maestro U Shrinivas. Next came 'Miles Beyond' from the classic 1973 Mahavishnu album Birds Of Fire. Everyone clapped but one wonders how many knew that it won a Grammy for Best Improvised Jazz Solo this year.

The mood was building up. I was perched on an aisle seat in the dress circle, not appropriately dressed and vaguely looking like the male version of Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Thankfully my attempt at jumping from the balcony ended when McLaughlin and band got into 'Lila's Dance', from the the 1975 album Visions Of Emerald Beyond. I was actually doing a samba-meets-waltz-meets-Bharatanatyam jig till I realised more people were looking at me than John Ji.

By now, I was totally confused: Completely enjoying the show but not sure how to behave in public... almost like an air traveller who hasn't fastened his seat-belt and is facing sudden turbulence. But that's jazz and one has to improvise one's mood every three seconds.

Luckily, I saw and heard 'Light At The Edge Of The World', an improvised version of a track written by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. By this time, M'Bappe and Husband had gone into some incredible solo parts. The turbulence cleared, the 4th dimension got into 'El Hombre Que Sabia', a piece McLaughlin dedicated to the late guitarist Paco De Lucia. As he explained, it meant, "The man who knew".

Next came 'Lotus On Irish Streams'. I mean, how does McLaughlin think of such song titles? Even Shakti had 'Mind Ecology' and 'Lotus Feet', literally head to toe. And 'Face To Face' to add up. Anyway, this piece was like a coffee intervention after four rounds of Old Monk. Pure complex simplicity. Or simple complexity.

Single Malt followed with a familiar track, which McLaughlin played in Roger Federer's classic serve and volley style. His score was 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. "Did anyone recognise this tune?"he asked. I screamed from my balcony seat like Kim Novak in agony — 'Birds Of Fire'. He answered, obviously not knowing where the voice came from, "There's only one old hippie in the hall." Was it me? I tried to hide but thanks anyway, John. Made my day.

The Mahavishnu tracks 'Sanctuary' and 'Echoes From Then' followed, with Husband suddenly joining Barot on a drum duet on the latter. And then it was all 'Thank You Goodbye'. Till the encore happened. And that's the secret of my earworm. I have been humming and breathing 'You Know You Know' since last night, hanging out with friends at The Quarter and later over dinner with another friend.

This morning, the tune lingered but I sort of mixed two numbers. This one and Pink Floyd's 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond'. I asked three people whether there is a commonality. Two said yes, one said no. Anyway, the McLaughlin experience was some other zone. It brought out the inner mounting flame in me while I thought of birds of fire in a sanctuary dreaming visions of emerald beyond. You know you know what I am talking of.


What they played:

John McLaughlin — The guitar was made for me by a luthier friend, Mike Sabre. He maintains all my guitars. He built this one especially for accompanying me on all airplanes as it fits in every overhead locker. I normally play PRS guitars on tour, but since I needed to bring two kinds of amplification, I brought this one. It’s a wonderful instrument that I’ve been playing for over 10 years.

Etienne Mbappé — An F-BASS made in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) by George Furlanetto. Strings are Neo Orange Strings by DR Strings.

Gary Husband — The stage piano provides MIDI for my Kontakt pianos and organs, which are on laptop. I am using a Roland here. My synth (Nord Lead 2X) is stand-alone and I run it through a TC verb and delay. The second (Nord)stage piano to my left is also stand-alone, just for organ sounds.

Ranjit Barot — Sonor Drums, Meinl Cymbals, Remo heads, Vic Firth sticks

Updated Date: Feb 11, 2018 16:28 PM

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