John McLaughlin – Floating Point
Jazz guitar icon John McLaughlin has recorded with some of the greatest musicians in the world. And those musicians have always brought their unique styles to his projects, and left their own stamp on the resulting music. In that respect, McLaughlin’s latest album Floating Point (Abstract Logix Records) is no different; it’s a wonderful album full of great playing by all the sidemen involved. However, the musicians McLaughlin has chosen to work with here do more than just bring their considerable skills to the table. On Floating Point , they represent the entire concept of the album, and are as responsible for the fantastic end-result as McLaughlin himself.
Simply put, Floating Point is a western-style jazz-fusion album played by (for the most part) Indian musicians. McLaughlin has recorded with Indian musicians countless times in the past – Indian classical music has been part of McLaughlin’s musical fabric for some 30 years now. So, is this album another of his many forays into Indo-Jazz, ala Shakti? Not exactly. Floating Point finds McLaughlin largely adhering to the jazz-fusion style he himself helped create, but his decision to record the album in India, with Indian musicians, has had a palpable impact on the final outcome. Listening to these Indian musicians strike a balance between their own concept of harmony (their ragas), and McLaughlin’s western jazz harmony is fascinating stuff.
Each track features a core band of McLaughlin on guitar and guitar synth, young phenom Hadrien Feraud on bass (from McLaughlin’s touring band, the 4th Dimension), and three great musicians from India – Ranjit Barot on drums, Sivamani on percussion, and Louiz Banks on keyboards. (Note: Feraud was not present at the original sessions in India – his parts were recorded later at McLaughlin’s home studio in Monaco.) While this is a great band in it’s own right, the guest soloists McLaughlin employs are what really make this album fun and special. Except for George Brooks, who contributes some great sax work to the album’s opener Abbaji (for Alla Rakha), the guests are all relatively unknown Indian musicians. These young lions of India, as McLaughlin has dubbed them, are largely responsible for the unique flavor of the album.
That’s not to say McLaughlin takes a back seat here. In fact, as silly as this sounds, I was struck by how well he plays on this album. I know; this is John McLaughlin, his greatness as a player is a given at this point. Part of the reason his playing here really grabbed me may be his tone. He’s using a drier sound on this recording than he used on his previous studio album, Industrial Zen (2006). As a result, everything he plays sounds bright and well defined. Every solo McLaughlin takes on Floating Point is loaded with incredible 16th-note lines, all played with a harmonic depth that only he can muster.
There are many compositional and improvisational highlights on the album. Raju features some great interplay between McLaughlin, and Hindustani slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya. Feraud also takes an amazing bass solo on this tune. Inside Out featuring U. Rajesh on electric Mandolin is another standout track. This upbeat groover is one of many tunes on the album where the guest soloist doubles the main melody with McLaughlin to great effect. Off the One, with it’s great Bamboo Flute work by Shashank, and The Voice featuring Shankar Mahadevan’s powerful vocals and McLaughlin’s beautiful guitar synth playing are two more songs that really stood out for me.
My favorite track on Floating Point is it’s closer, Five Peace Band. This song features one of the most stirring highlights of the album – Niladri Kumar’s remarkable electric Zitar solo. Kumar is a fan of western rock guitar players, and it shows. This guy can shred like nobody’s business. And the way he doubles the main melody with McLaughlin makes the whole track more fun to listen to than it otherwise would be.
Note: some of Floating Point ‘s tracks may be familiar to you – Raju, Maharina, and Five Piece Band are all songs McLaughlin has been performing live with his 4th Dimension band since that quartet’s first tour last year (McLaughlin also performed Five Peace Band with Remember Shakti).
McLaughlin has always been a fixture on the jazz scene, but the last couple of years have seen a surge of inspired output from the maestro (a new touring band with two live recordings, several DVDs, etc). Floating Point is not only one of the high points of this surge – it’s an album that no one but McLaughlin, with his intimate knowledge on Indian music, could have made. If McLaughlin recorded Floating Point in the west using western musicians, it would still be a great and surely well-received album (the strength of the compositions alone would almost guarantee it), but it wouldn’t be as fun or engaging as the album turned out to be. Floating Point is McLaughlin’s best studio recording in some time, and so far, it’s one of the best jazz-fusion albums of 2008.
John McLaughlin – Floating Point (Abstract Logix)
John McLaughlin – Guitar & Guitar Synthesizer
Hadrien Feraud – Bass
Ranjit Barot – Drums
Sivamani – Percussion
Louiz Banks – Keyboards
1. Abbaji (for Alla Rakha) (featuring George Brooks – Saxophone)
2. Raju (featuring Debashish Bhattacharya – Hindustani Slide Guitar)
4. Off the One (featuring Shashank – Bamboo Flute)
5. The Voice (featuring Shankar Mahadevan – Vocals)
6. Inside Out (featuring U. Rajesh – electric Mandolin)
7. 1 4 U (featuring Naveen Kumar – Bamboo Flute)
8. Five Peace Band (featuring Niladri Kumar – electric Zitar)