By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Venue: Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida–November 25, 2017–Meeting of the Spirits Tour–John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring
I have been waiting to finally see John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension since I interviewed him in 2015. The Meeting of the Spirits Tour, which consisted of John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring, and their respective bands, rolled into Clearwater, Florida on November 25, 2017 to partially filled auditorium. The fact it was Thanksgiving weekend may have had some play but certainly those that attended were either hardcore jazz fans (I saw bumper stickers in the parking lot that read “I love serious jazz”) or Jimmy Herring “Widespread Panic” fans, as I later found out by speaking with concert attendees. I was pleased to see a large number of Millennials, which was encouraging, as mostly Baby Boomers enjoy jazz fusion. Nevertheless, all that attended were presented with a three-hour feast of one of the most beautiful concerts I have attended.
The first set consisted of Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip, which is comprised of Jimmy Herring – guitar; Jeff Sipe – drums; Matt Slocum – B3 Organ/Clavinet; Kevin Scott – bass; and Jason Crosby – Fender Rhodes/violin. They played for a good hour and trust me, nobody was complaining. In-between song takes the fans enthusiastically cheered and stood. Their performance was utterly mesmerizing and people were actually paying attention since cell phones were prohibited, I heard, although I saw a few being held up to take photos. We were hearing pure music—and it was jazzy and funky, causing a lot of head bobbing in the audience. There was plenty of clavinet plunking, gong hitting, electric violin playing, and electric guitar lead to satisfy both jazz and jam band lovers.
The second set consisted of John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension, which is comprised of John McLaughlin – guitar; Gary Husband – keyboard/drums; Étienne Mbappé – bass; Ranjit Barot – drums. The band who started with one of my favs “Here Comes the Jiis” which was featured on their last album Black Light. Another stand out was “El Homebre Que Sabia” which pays homage to McLaughlin’s long-time friend Paco de Lucia who passed away in 2014. Usually I take notes during the show but while hearing this set, I felt compelled to watch, listen, and feel the music for a change. It is very cerebral and emotional, and listening at Ruth Eckerd Hall, which has the best acoustic quality around, was sheer aural pleasure. Watching McLaughlin on guitar just reminded me why he is at the top of his class–a master and a musician’s musician for sure. He was bopping around, smiling, and seemed to be like a “kid in a candy shop” while trading licks and smiles with the other band members, as his affection for them was quite apparent. Mbappé plucked the bass strings with his infamous gloved hands, Husband masterfully played the keys (and later the drums in Set 3). Barot’s drumming was phenomenal and I enjoyed the addition of the Konokol.
The third set consisted of members of both John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension and Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip performing the songs of Mahavishnu Orchestra. McLaughlin came out with a beautiful blue Paul Reed Smith double-neck guitar which had both twelve string and six string options. This custom-piece is honestly a work of art and will be auctioned at the conclusion of the tour. One hundred percent of the funds will be donated to the “Music Therapy Programme” for children in Ramallah, Palestine. A beautiful guitar for a beautiful man and a beautiful cause!
The set which included songs like “Dance of the Maya”, “Birds of Fire”, and “Eternity’s Breath Part 1 and 2” cannot even be described in words. The complexity of the compositions appeared like “controlled chaos” as melodies, riffs, and beats intertwined and dueted to create what can be described as “otherworldly music”. It was not only beautiful to watch and experience as colored lights flashed, mirrored balls twirled, and music filled the air to create a psychedelic and sensory experience sans the use of mind-enhancing drugs. Pure aural pleasure.
The band departed after taking a bow on the front of the stage but returned after roaring clapping and cheers for an encore. The band returned and played the appropriate “Be Happy” which is exactly how everybody was feeling at the end of the concert. Those that did not attend missed possibly the concert of the year and the opportunity to see and hear the most-skilled musicians on the planet today.
Partial Set List
Set 1- Jimmy Herring & the Invisible Whip
Les Brers in A Minor
Set 2 – John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension
Here Come the Jiis
El Hombre Que Sabia
Light at the Edge of the World
Echos from Then
Set 3- Combined bands–Songs of Mahavishnu Orchestra
Meetings of Spirits
Birds of Fire
Lotus on Irish Streams
Dance of Maya
Eternity’s Breath Part 1
Eternity’s Breath Part 2
Jimmy Herring and the invisible Whip
John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
Both John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension and Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip
The Music of Mahavishnu Orchestra
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