In 2007, during an extended stay in Madras, India, an inspired John McLaughlin was overwhelmed with a sudden burst of creativity; which produced eight new songs. Rather than waiting until he returned to Monaco, he decided to record the new pieces in India featuring some of the "young lions" of India’s music scene.
The result is Floating Point, John McLaughlin’s debut studio CD release on Abstract Logix. According to John, the Floating Point is the sensation musicians can experience when a band is really clickin’ and the music goes to a higher level; the change of consciousness feels like you’re floating.
Floating Point builds upon, refines, and stretches the musical direction in progress on 2006’s Industrial Zen. Instead of using a variety of musician line-ups, this recording has a single rhythm section supporting McLaughlin and a featured soloist. The twist on this CD has the Indian musicians playing in a "western music" framework: i.e. improvising over chords and working with the harmony. This concept, combined with the Indian instruments, imbues McLaughlin’s jazz fusion with a noticeably different feel. Floating Point has a very unique "world" quality. But that’s just the beginning.
As John relates the Floating Point to the interaction between musicians, it could also apply to the music itself. McLaughlin is a master of merging/blending the music of the East and West, but on Floating Point the method is slightly different. John brings the East and West close together, but he doesn’t let them touch: like the hands in the "Creation of Adam" on the Sistine Chapel. The rhythms of the East serve as a foundation while the harmony of the West is suspended above them; each moving parallel to the other at the same time – and the effect on your senses is startling! Your ears react to the melodies, your body reacts to the rhythms; and your mind has to connect the two. But as Funkadelic rightly put it, "Free your mind...and your ass will follow."
McLaughlin’s love of rhythm – and drummers – is given free reign on Floating Point. In fact, the drummers steal the show. Ranjit Barot is killin’ on every track! Sivamani, who’s also burnin’, provides an additional rhythmic undercurrent and counterpoint to Barot. With Barot playing propulsive polyrhythms and expressive embellishment on the kit, and Sivamani – matching him stroke for stroke – weaving in and out and around the rhythms on percussion, the resulting maelstrom creates a sense of relentless dynamic energy (and unresolved tension) within the songs.
McLaughlin’s understanding of Indian music is essential here. John avoids the cliched "drummer keeping a static 4/4 funk beat and a guy tapping bongos" routine (all together now..."smmooooth jaaazz") and unchains the drumming tandem. He lets the drummers improvise, subdivide and extend the rhythms without the restriction – and limits – of a single groove within the songs.
Bass phenom Hadrien Feraud and keyboardist Louiz Banks round out the rhythm section. Feraud was not available for the recording sessions in India and added his parts later in Monaco. But plenty of space was left for him to play his melodic bass lines and jaw-dropping solos. Louiz Banks handles most of the accompaniment, allowing McLaughlin to mix it up with the stellar cast of guest musicians.
Some highlights of the CD:
"Abbaji (for Alla Rakha)": named after and dedicated to the master tabla player (and Zakir Hussain’s father). The pensive melody and chords of a mid-tempo blues hover over drums that sound like the jugalbandi of a raga. That sense of two independent styles playing at the same time flows throughout Floating Point, and is wonderfully shown on this piece.
"Off The One": one of my favorite tracks. Shashank on bamboo flute gives this piece a little more of an eastern feel; and he really soars during his solo. Again, the drummers really keep things percolating.
"The Voice": this could be a companion piece to "Mother Nature" from Industrial Zen. Where Shankar Mahadevan lets loose with his wordless vocals at the end of that song, here he rips (and riffs) through the whole tune. He always sends a chill through me when I hear him sing!
"1 4 U": another favorite track of mine. Without a doubt, this is one of the catchiest – that’s right, catchiest – songs in the JMcL songbook. This CD isn’t just about complex rhythms, it is also VERY melodic. If radio play lists weren’t so restricted, this tune could be coming from your car speakers. Naveen Kumar on bamboo flute trading licks with John on this piece is a real treat.
"Five Peace Band": after Niladri Kumar’s blistering solo on electric sitar, everyone had to be floating when this track was being laid down.
In the March ’85 issue of Down Beat, John McLaughlin said, "I’m a guitar player – that’s what I am primarily; that’s what I’ll always be. I like to write music, but a guitar player’s all I ever want to be. I want to be better and better, just as I want to be a better person." But his guitar playing can overshadow the complete musician and artist that is John McLaughlin. John the composer produced a consistently strong collection of intricate and melodic songs. John the dreamer had the vision to conceptualize and carry out this project; stretching the boundaries of music – again. John the believer has to have faith in music he doesn’t know from where it comes and directed with no idea where it is supposed to go. With a life in music spanning more than 50 years, there is a degree of certitude that we have of John McLaughlin and his music. Standards deemed impossible for others to reach we consider "the norm" for him. But whatever standards we hold him to, the standards he sets for himself are infinitely higher. Floating Point is another amazing example of just how high those standards are.