From the gritty guitar chords that kick off perennial set opener “Raju” to the final strains of album closer “You Know You Know,” John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension’s latest release, The Boston Record [Abstract Logix], captures the high-octane quartet playing an inspired show before an enthusiastic audience at the Berklee College of Music. McLaughlin, bassist Etienne M’Bappe, drummer Ranjid Barot, and keyboardist/ drummer Gary Husband run down nine numbers drawn from several eras of McLaughlin’s celebrated career, from the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s 1971 debut The Inner Mounting Flame to the 4th Dimension’s own 2012 release Now Here This.
The current quartet has an extraordinary chemistry.
People do speak about the something that passes between certain people as being chemistry, and there’s a lot of it in this band. I don’t know how to account for it, but the 4th Dimension has been in existence for almost eight years now, which is pretty good. We’ve had a few personnel changes, but they have happened organically. At this time, I feel the band is one of the best I’ve ever had—maybe the greatest.
Your longtime musical relationship with Gary Husband, in particular, has been exceptionally fruitful. What is it about him that you find so inspiring?
Gary has a gigantic talent, and a total lack of self-importance. He is without any pretensions whatsoever—which is unusual, to say the least. I believe I’m also his greatest admirer, so you could say that some of the original chemistry of the band started with Gary and me.
The band has an appreciable repertoire at this point. How did you select the tunes that are included on The Boston Record?
Gary, Etienne, and Ranjit can play anything I throw at them with the greatest of ease. In addition, there’s a definite connection between the 4th Dimension and the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. I don’t know how or why—it’s just there. As a consequence, there are pieces that go back to the ’70s that I still enjoy playing. Of course, there are also pieces from the ’80s, ’90s, and all the way up to today in the band’s repertory.
Of all the early Mahavishnu pieces, what made “You Know You Know” the right one to perform and record at this time?
There are tunes I wrote a long time ago, for which I have a particular affection, though I don’t know why. Some music you write at a particular point in your life makes a statement, and, for me, “You Know You Know” is one of those tunes. It’s not really a tune, though, as there’s no real melody. It’s just a riff. But the riff tells the story somehow.
Your tone is relatively gritty and rock-like on many pieces. How are you getting those nastier sounds?
I’ve been using tube preamps for quite a few years now, and I currently have three that I really like on my pedalboard. I just choose the one that suits my mood, and on the evening that we recorded The Boston Record, it was my Seymour Duncan Twin Tube Classic. The other two are my old Mesa/Boogie V-Twin, which also uses a pair of tubes, and a Hermida Audio Zen Drive 2, which uses a tube and a MOSFET. I’m playing my custom PRS and Godin Freeway SA guitars. [Editor’s note: McLaughlin’s pedalboard also contains an MXR Stereo Chorus and Carbon Copy delay, a Korg Pitchblack tuner, a Line 6 Relay G30 wireless system, a Fishman GuitAero WGS6000- RX Wireless Guitar Synthesizer, and a Dunlop CD-Brick power supply.]
Did you make a pact with the devil in order to still be playing at the top of your game during the fifth decade of your career?
No, I didn’t. But some people are calling me Dorian Gray [laughs]. By all rights, I should be playing golf and taking life easy, but playing music is not like that. In fact, I believe playing music is the element that keeps me healthy. That said, when I’m not touring, I play tennis, swim, bike halfway up a mountain once a week, and have a healthy, principally vegetarian diet—all of which contribute to a healthy life. I also continue my meditation practices, which definitely help.
What inspires you to keep going?
Although there’s no more record industry, I’m glad I can continue to record. Records are like paintings, and I have a friend who is one of the greatest painters of wild animals in the world. In 2012, he told me he’d sold only one painting the entire year, but he can’t stop painting. We are in the same boat. How can we stop? As long as there are people who enjoy what we create, we’re happy!