John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension / Courtney Pine
Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto ON, June 23
When English saxophonist/composer Courtney Pine burst onto the scene in the mid-'80s, he played relatively orthodox jazz. He has gone on to integrate such homegrown forms as drum & bass and garage into his work, while last year's award-winning album, House Of Legends, explored his Caribbean musical roots. He concentrated on that material in this hour-long set, a fitting aural accompaniment to a sweltering night. Steel pan drums added a strong calypso flavour, while soca, mento and reggae stylings were also used. Clad in yellow and black, Pine cut a striking figure onstage, and he wasted no time in working the crowd, hip-hop style. Upright bass and fluent guitar added variety, and Pine's soprano sax playing was sterling. The momentum of the set sagged at times, but Pine definitely won converts here.
Photo: Dougal Bichan
Headliner and guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin is a fellow Brit, with one highly impressive pedigree. From seminal work with Miles Davis and Tony Williams, he helped launch '70s jazz-rock fusion in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, incorporated Indian classical music in Shakti, and shone in the Guitar Trio, alongside Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola.
McLaughlin travels light. Whereas most guitar heroes come with a large arsenal of instruments and a tech or two, he chopped with the same axe all night. At 71, he is as dextrous as ever, delivering those trademark speedy runs with apparent ease. He and the three members of 4th Dimension (bass, drums and keyboards) began with a tune from new album Now Here This. Something of a formula fusion number, it raised fears that the evening would comprise a trebly feast of guitar and keyboard noodling. Thankfully, that anxiety was unfounded, and there was a nice range of dynamics explored in their set.
Drummer Ranjit Barot and bassist Etienne Mbappe came to the fore on a bluesy second number, and provided a solid rhythmic bottom to the work of McLaughlin and keyboardist Gary Husband. The versatile Husband switched to a second drum kit on a couple of compositions, delighting the crowd. Barot added vocalese to other numbers, adding a chant of "love and understanding" to "Abbaji," a composition from Floating Point, a 2008 album featuring McLaughlin, Barot and other Indian musicians. Later in the set, Barot sang some rather banal lyrics ("the creator has a master plan") on a pretty piano-led ballad. A set highlight came on a short and sweet ballad built around electric piano and guitar, a tune McLaughlin told us he wrote "for another old hippie, Carlos Santana." He showed a flash of humour when mentioning his new album to the crowd, noting "look in a record store if you can find one. Or download it for free. The new world order." The sizeable crowd was suitably appreciative throughout, rising for standing ovations on a couple of occasions. There was no doubting McLaughlin's sincerity at the concert's end when he thanked the audience "from the bottom of my heart." For an old hippie, he still has plenty of creative life left.
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