John McLaughlin, Floating Point
Friday June 27, 2008
This thrilling Indian band represents a very different John McLaughlin group from the rock-powered 4th Dimension quartet the guitarist brought to the Barbican last month. McLaughlin’s interest in Indian music goes back to the late 1960s, but this boiling new set sounds as if it’s driven at least as much by cutting-edge Indian crossover musicians as by McLaughlin himself.
Electric sitars and mandolins, Hindustani slide guitars and the serpentine electric keyboard lines of Nepalese jazz celebrity Louiz Banks contribute to a world-jazz sound that offers echoes of Tutu-era Miles Davis and Joe Zawinul’s later groups. The percussion is a compelling mix of fast-vibrating polyrhythms, cymbal explosions and hard-struck funk, and the general backdrop (as clamorous as crowded backstreets) sets up a gripping contrast to McLaughlin’s fresh guitar lines, Banks’ slippery variations and George Brooks’ Wayne Shorter-like soprano sax.
On the Layla-like Raju, the guitarist trades closing improv phrases with the other strings players; Off the One alternates fizzing guitar breaks with the lightly dancing main theme; The Voice features Shankar Mahadevan’s inventive Indian-scat vocals; Five Peace Band is a hustling, Weather Reportish eastern blues, and only the folksily skipping 1 4 U approaches a misfire. But this is 99% an absolute cracker, and not just for guitar nuts either.