Opening with the appropriately titled “For Jaco”—featuring 21-year old bassist extraordinaire Hadrien Feraud—Industrial Zen honors McLaughlin’s fusion roots, while updating the approach with liberal infusions of electronica and other more contemporary forms. The album is centered on McLaughlin’s synth programming, which is augmented by an assemblage of stellar musicians, including bassists Matt Garrison and Tony Grey, saxophonists Bill Evans and Ada Rovatti, drummers Dennis Chambers and Mark Mondesir, tabla master Zakir Hussain, and keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband. Despite all the musical muscle power, however, McLaughlin’s electric guitar and guitar synth work is front and center—and whether generating colorful ambient synth washes or unleashing fusillades of precisely articulated notes, his playing is exciting and inspired throughout.
McLaughlin was an “early adopter” of guitar synthesis, and while his interest in its creative possibilities has waxed and waned over the decades, he’s clearly fully engaged here. Even the choice of dated “ohh” and “ahh” vocal samples in some spots can’t diminish the overall feeling of playful exploration. The song structures rarely approach “jazz” in the usual sense, but the melodies and solos certainly do, and it is this juxtaposition that gives Industrial Zen its distinct personality—sort of Weather Report meets the Orb with McLaughlin on guitar.
Guitar highlights include McLaughlin’s trading solos with Eric Johnson on “New Blues old Bruise,” the heavily effected Mahavishnu Orchestra-like riffing on “Dear Dalai Lama,” and the brief but beautiful fretless solo on “Mother Nature.” McLaughlin and friends clearly had a great time making this recording, and that sense of joy permeates the entire disc. (Universal).