British guitar pioneer illuminated Ronnie Scotts for Jazzwise Magazine 20th anniversary celebrations.
The week-long Jazzwise 20th anniversary celebrations kicked off in spectacular style last night. The word genius is bandied about far too often these days, but in the case of John McLaughlin, the epiteth is indisputedly warranted for one of the world’s most influential and inspirational guitarists/composers.
(Jazzwise Magazine Editor In Chief Jon Newey)
The 2-night stint at Ronnie’s comes at the end of an intense 10-date European tour. McLaughlin wanted the Ronnie’s gigs to be the climax of the tour since the club is so very dear to his heart. As he explains: “Ronnie Scott and Ronnie Scott’s-where would I be without them?... it’s thanks to Ronnie personally that when I got the invite from Tony Williams in 1968, it was thanks to Ronnie that I was able to get the visa”. The rest, as they say, is history. From being a member of Ronnie Scott’s houseband in the late 1960s Mclaughlin’s rise to world stardom was truly meteoric. John has travelled along many different paths during his amazing 50-year career but whatever course he has choosen to take, his music always seethes with passion, humanity and spirituality. His music is ying and yang, fire and grace.
McLaughlin and his regular band of Gary Husband (keyboards and drums), Etienne Mbappe (electric bass) and Ranjit Barot (drums) were on fire as they took the sell-out audience on a breathtaking musical journey that lasted over 2 hours without a break. McLaughlin’s guitar technique at 75 is just as terrifyingly mesmerising as it was all those years ago when he took the world by storm with those Mahavishnu masterpieces of the early 1970s.
It was fantastic to hear the band revisiting the incendiary Mahavishnu material, the band erupting with two classics: “Meeting of the Spirits” from The Inner Mounting Flame of 1971 and “Miles Beyond” from Birds of Fire of 1973. From then on the set was a gloriously potent mix of old and new material. It wasn’t all fast and furious fusion. “Gaza City” from his Backlight album of 2015 had me in tears. A quiet prayer for those who suffered intolerably in the Gaza bombardment in 2014, it reminds us that this was just one example of man’s obscene inhumanity to man. Indeed, the horrors go on unabated. We need “love and understanding” to repair our screwed-up world," as Ranjit pleads in Abbaji, the melody simple, anthemic and immensely powerful. The band were in joyous flamenco mood in “El Hombre que Sabia”. This tune was to be recorded with Paco de Lucia but sadly the legendary virtuoso flamenco guitarist left us three years ago. Here, the duet between McLaughlin and Husband on keys was awesome. In fact, Husband was awesome throughout the entire evening whether he was behind the drums or at the keyboard. I don’t think it’s an over-statement to call Gary a genius as well as John. Mbappe and Barot were incredible too. What a band! – I felt honoured to have been there.
We mustn’t forget clarinettist Arun Ghosh and his band for their wonderful contribution at the beginning of the evening. They put the audience in a joyous mood before the main event, and Alex Garnett and the guys who bopped away until the early hours to send everyone away in a swinging mood.
Reviewed by Geoff Eales - Photographs by Tim Dickeson