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John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin


Plugging In, Swinging Left


JAZZ, TUNED IN, TURNED ON: By some serendipitous fate, the new fall jazz season launches next week with a definite theme, having to do with the tasteful but unapologetic use of electricity. Young N’Awlins-born/NYC-based trumpeter Christian Scott brings his moody-groove sound to SOhO on Monday, and then the great John McLaughlin plays the Lobero next Thursday, September 20 with his fiery band the 4th Dimension.

Purists might cry foul or the other f-word-fusion-but by missing these shows, they’ll miss out on some serious and provocative new ideas, not to mention plenty of atmosphere and adrenaline. In this strange, transitional time in jazz, diverging musical paths are finding their own way-and their own audiences-in spite of the industry’s entropy.

McLaughlin’s long-awaited return to Santa Barbara makes for what will likely be the jazz event of this year locally. Even so, jazz proper has never known quite what to do with the stylistically restless and singular McLaughlin-one of the finest guitarists ever, period. From the evidence of last year’s Industrial Zen, this band will be considerably higher in the decibel and speed departments than McLaughlin’s subtler, acoustically-inclined projects. That list includes his Indian-oriented Shakti-and its latter-day revival Remember Shakti-and the acoustic, Brazilian-tinged Belo Horizonte project from 1981-which in fact was the last time McLaughlin played in Santa Barbara, also at the Lobero. Even earlier, his scorching Mahavishnu Orchestra played at the old Granada Theatre in 1974, a show indelibly imprinted on at least one impressionable teenager’s memory (ahem).

After recent work with the revived Shakti, featuring Zakir Hussain, McLaughlin reconnected with his old electric guitar muse. The 4th Dimension sound-bustling with quicksilver melodies and rambunctious group dynamics-manages to be both muscular and somehow meditative. The 65-year-old McLaughlin’s playing is as incendiary as ever, but with an added patina of grace beneath the friendly tumult.

Scott, 24, made a good impression with his debut Rewind That (Concord), and continues with his signature sound on the new Anthem. Scott shows an admirably subtle approach to the horn, savoring space, breath, and tone. That coolness of attitude-reminiscent of Nils Petter Molv:r and Booker Little, in addition to an obvious Miles Davis echo-settles atop grooves, soft-edged funk, and emotive variations of melancholy and anger. Guitarist Matt Stevens is the wild beast factor in the band.

Scott is probably tired of the comparison, but his group’s operative contrast of the minimalist trumpeter and the edgy distorted guitarist harks back to Davis’s early electric era, when he found a great foil in the young McLaughlin. That past keeps parading back into consciousness, most recently in an amazing new package on Columbia/Legacy, the complete, six-disc On the Corner sessions. Far from sounding like a relic, this high point in Davis’s electrified ‘70s period is more exciting than ever, with a retrospective afterglow in what’s coming down the pike today, through musicians like Scott and Nicholas Payton.

FRINGE PRODUCT: Taking Luciana Souza‘s new album The New Bossa Nova (Verve) for a spin, it may initially seem like an easygoing bossa-time diversion, suitable for low volume in a wine bar. But casual first impressions are deceptive: Aided by producer Larry Klein (also her husband now), Souza has come up with a supple reinvention of the bossa sound, giving fresh intrigue to such lovely tunes as Joni Mitchell’s “Down to You,” Elliott Smith’s “Satellite,” Michael McDonald’s “I Can Let Go Now,” and Brian Wilson’s immortal “God Only Knows.” For good measure, the Brazilian singer closes with the tongue-tripping, mind-tripping Jobim classic “Waters of March.”

Mostly, though, the idea is to apply the bossa aesthetic to new terrain. The album’s highlight is Souza’s read on Steely Dan’s “Were You Blind That Day,” with a different and sweeter lyric than its later version from Gaucho, “Third World Man.” Tenor saxist Chris Potter, so brilliant on Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature, plays a luscious and smart solo. Overall, Souza’s voice soothes, but with assurance and depth beneath the surface gleam.

(Got e? fringebeat@independent.com.)

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