John McLaughlin – Live at the Rialto Center

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This was my first trip the Rialto Center for the Arts, a performance venue at Georgia State University.  The 833 seat theater literally does not have a bad seat in the house, and the acoustics are wonderful.  But, it has more going for it than just that.

As compared with the sterility of ordering tickets through Ticketmaster, the Box Office personnel were very helpful in recommending the best seats – on the wings down low left of the stage, or towards the middle but a good number of rows back?  My concert buddy and I were very pleased with the 4th row seats in the wing, which, as advised, had no site line issues at all to see the depth of the stage.  That said, we likely would have been nearly as happy anywhere in the venue.

The Rialto is also to be commended for their volunteers.  Their greeter was warm and friendly and made eye contact with us entering and leaving, and if very short impressions can be trusted, seemed like a very genuine person happy to be there and happy for you to experience the venue. 

But wait! There’s more!  The Rialto even provides complimentary parking arrangements in a nearby deck – a rarity in downtown Atlanta, or other places where there are bucks to be made. 

The lobby features some artwork as well as photos and information on songwriter Johnny Mercer.  As expected, the souvenir table was provided for T-shirts, CDs and DVDs, but, rather unusuallyJohn McLaughlin - Godin Guitars, McLaughlin’s guitar (likely a backup) was also on display.  It’s obvious that he’s promoting the Godin brand to anyone who who favors his playing and sound, and it was a beautiful guitar.

The only off-putting element was the ban on cameras… which, for once, I respected.  This was the type of venue where LCD screens are visibly distracting to others and just not appropriate. 

Oh yeah, this is a concert review, not a venue review.

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension opened on time and played for two hours.  This has been a very fortunate year in that my interest in McLaughlin started years ago upon the release of “Saturday Night in San Francisco,” featuring McLaughlin, Al Di Meola and Paco Delucia on very fleet fingered acoustic guitars.  Thirty years later, it is somewhat ironic to have finally seen both Di Meola and McLaughlin in the same year. 

McLaughlin is not a household name.  His career became highly visible in the late 1960’s with key contributions to Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson, among others.  He went on to contribute in significant ways to the “jazz fusion” form and has heavily influenced many other guitarists.

McLaughlin delivered pretty much what I expected – tremendously fast guitar technique and utter control over the sound of his instrument.  The music was what I had expected, as well.  Intelligent, versatile, complex, challenging and largely inaccessible to someone not schooled in music theory.  His beautiful guitar lived up to its looks, rigged very much for a rounder jazz tonal quality as opposed to the higher pitched expressions found in rock.

McLaughlin usually plays with his eyes focused on nothing, very intense on… method? math? leaps between scales?  I don’t know.  He visibly finds emotion in what he and his band mates are doing, but it doesn’t translate as well to someone who favors a melody for its sound rather than for its potential transitional directions.

And I suppose that is what jazz, in its higher forms, imageis all about.  Even though the music itself didn’t translate well, watching talented artists is always a pleasure.

Bassist Etienne M’Bappe was a treat.  There were no basic bass lines to be heard.  His fingers were, like McLaughlin’s, a study in movement.  Better, they were highlighted by wearing black gloves which, against the lighter wood of his 5 string electric bass, looked like an equalizer graphic.  He had some great solos.

Gary Husband played keyboards, primarily.  He provided texture to the band’s overall sound, and as much as anything, gave McLaughlin a break.  Again, in the absence of identifiable tunes, he’s obviously very gifted but, like the band leader, fails to keep a recurring tune in favor of too many notes.  Why too many notes?  Because they can.

Primarily coming to see a guitarist, I walked away with the greatest appreciation for drummer Mark Mondesir, who has played with many artists of whom I’ve heard.  He was a study in fluid kinetics, a seemingly effortless drummer who was both the anchor for what the band was doing and, I think, an inspiration. 

Keyboardist Gary Husband also plays drums and settled in for two extended drum jams with Mondesir.  His style was much more aggressive and labored, but these were the highlights of the night as they competed with variations of rhythms, sounds, and styles.

It was obvious that others in the crowd were more in tune with live jazz and music theory, as heard by various laughs, giggles, or affirmative nods through the performance.  For me, it was an enjoyable evening to watch amazingly talented musicians do their thing – a good night, indeed.

1 comment :

  1. love the blog and the guitar too...im learning trying to teach myself how to play...its harder than i thought

    http://tinymiyo.blogspot.com/

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