Old hippie still making music

John Mclaughlin And The 4th Dimension.

For guitar and fusion fans, British musician John McLaughlin has been a prolific trailblazer of the jazz-rock scene since the 1960s.

The 72-year-old modestly refers to himself as "an old hippie" who firmly believes in the transcending power of music.

Asked to assess his long and influential body of work, he says in a telephone interview from his home in Monte Carlo, Monaco: "I think just to be a musician is the greatest honour and privilege of my life, to be part of music. Because music is a healing power, it's a power of love and a power of peace, a power of harmony and bringing people together, of affection and tolerance and all these marvellous ideals that we all hold dearly."

He will perform at the Esplanade Concert Hall on March 11 with his band, The 4th Dimension. The concert is part of the Esplanade's annual Mosaic Music Festival.

The man is well-regarded for his virtuoso guitar style and his extensive and varied career as a band leader and sideman.

In the 1960s, he went from being a member of jazz-rock fusion pioneers Lifetime to playing guitar for jazz icon Miles Davis.

The next decade saw him delving deeper into a more complex fusion of jazz, rock and other forms of music with seminal outfit Mahavishnu Orchestra. He later mixed Indian classical music with acoustic jazz with the band Shakti.

While the 1980s saw him go down the classical- jazz fusion route, the 1990s was when he straddled acoustic and electric jazz.

For the last decade, he has been performing with a group of musicians dubbed The 4th Dimension, who now comprise keyboardist and drummer Gary Husband, 53, bassist Etienne M'Bappe, 50, and drummer Ranjit Barot, 54.

Their 2010 album, To The One, was nominated in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category at the 2011 Grammy Awards. Their latest album, Now Here This, was released in 2012 to critical acclaim.

All About Jazz, a jazz website, wrote that the "blend of musical personalities has a balance and dynamism that's all too rare", while jazz magazine JazzTimes said McLaughlin's playing on the album "retains the dazzling technique and articulation that established him as a guitar hero with Miles in the late 1960s and stunned with Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s".

The musician says of his accompanying band at the upcoming Esplanade gig: "This is my most favourite group since the very first Mahavishnu Orchestra. They are outstanding players and human beings too. This combination is good for music. The music needs the lives of the people who are playing, otherwise, it's just notes.

"Of course, you have to play the notes correctly and in time, your rhythms have to be great. But at the same time, what really gives the richness of emotions to the music is the people playing it."

McLaughlin, who has two sons aged 44 and 16 from two marriages, laments the sorry state of the recording industry today, but has no plans to stop making albums.

He says the record industry "is almost over" and he does not make as much money from his recordings as he used to. But a conversation with a friend has helped him to put things in perspective, he adds.

"I have a dear friend who is a painter. He's very successful but some years are lean, just like some musicians' years are lean. Two years ago, I was talking about the record industry and how lamentable it was and he said, 'Well, I sold one painting last year but how can I stop painting?'".

McLaughlin realised that the same thing applies to musicians like himself - they just cannot stop making new music and recording them.

"We make recordings because we have to. They are like up-to-date paintings of where we are at a particular time. So for me, it's important."

He adds: "Until now, the music hasn't stopped coming and I'll just keep going until it stops. Hopefully, it won't stop until I fall down dead."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.