John McLaughlin Kicks Off Meeting of the Spirits Tour in Buffalo with Jimmy Herring

Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip struck the match.

John McLaughlin and the Fourth Dimension fanned the flames.

Together, using material from a 45 year old band, McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, they built a blazing fire inside the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Wednesday night.

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It was the first night of a fusion guitar lover’s dream tour, dubbed The Meeting of the Spirits. It will be the last ever North American visit for the legendary British septuagenarian guitarist.

The opening set from Jimmy Herring’s new solo outfit, was anything but your typical opening set. The seats in the theater were full and the crowd was at full attention from the first notes. Herring showcased his talents in restrained spurts, masterfully directing his bandmates through 50 minutes of exhilarating instrumental fantasies. His crack squad of Jeff Sipe, Jason Crosby, Matt Slocum and Kevin Scott were with him every step of the way through a seven-song set including “1911” and “Jungle Book.” Their mid-set rendition of “Les Brers in A Minor” made clear that it was a jazz fusion tune hiding out in a Southern rock band all along.

McLaughlin’s Fourth Dimension is another band brimming with talent. Bassist Etienne Mbappe, drummer Ranjit Barot and keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband all had ample space to showcase their talents throughout the set. Masterful bass solos were met with drum solos complete with mind-boggling scat drumming. Husband made the synthesizer a chameleon, realigning the sound continuously. “Kiki” and “Miles Beyond” gave way to more mellow material like “Gaza City” and “El Hombre Que Sabia,” a tune McLaughlin meant to record with Paco Delucia before he passed away, which now he plays as an homage. He wandered the wide-open stage as he played, effortlessly creating guitar sounds that were impossibly perfect at impossible speeds. As their set ended, McLaughlin was ready to keep it going, calling for Herring and band to come out. Call it a first night mix-up, apparently there would need to be a quick break.

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For the third set both bands combined to form a 9-man fusion supergroup. This was headphone music and luckily the theater’s acoustics were up to the challenge. The sound was impeccable. And the playing was too. Double drummers, double bassists, double keys, and McLaughlin pulled out the double-neck guitar to boot. Somehow as the band doubled in size it only grew tighter. McLaughlin played facing the band for most of the set, not only lead-guitarist but musical director, steering the monster band through a selection of classic Mahavishnu Orchestra tunes. “Meeting of the Spirits,” “Trilogy,” “The Dance of Maya,” not quite as fresh and vital as they were 40 years ago, but still powerful and invigorating. The maestro was in and the class was in session. “Eternity’s Breath” showcased the intensity of a band where every member is a secret weapon. Though perhaps they were most impressive on the mellower “Earth’s Ship,” as the bassists weaved lines around each other and the rest of member’s distinct sounds were teased apart gently to beautiful effect. The inner mounting flame was burning, unfortunately it couldn’t be eternal.

Leaving a Buffalo stage for the last time, McLaughlin said his final goodbye to the city with a quote from the Eagles, of all things, “We may lose and we may win though, we will never be here again.”

Take it easy, John.

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