Mahavishnu Orchestra’s John McLaughlin Looks Toward Retirement After Half a Century of Groundbreaking Guitar Work | Music Feature | Indy Week

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Mahavishnu Orchestra’s John McLaughlin Looks Toward Retirement After Half a Century of Groundbreaking Guitar Work

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Even if John McLaughlin had never released a single solo album or formed his pioneering fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra, he would still be regarded as a visionary who changed the game for guitarists and profoundly altered the course of rock and jazz. After all, he was the iconoclastic six-string firebrand who provided a good portion of the grit in Miles Davis's earth-shattering late-sixties and early-seventies jazz-rock recordings.

But thankfully for anyone with ears, after assisting Davis in the invention of fusion on unassailable milestones like 1969's In a Silent Way and 1970's Bitches Brew, the dashing Yorkshireman did indeed form one of the first, most influential, and fieriest fusion bands ever. He's maintained a dazzlingly diverse, endlessly inventive solo career for forty-eight years and counting. On Sunday, he'll make a stop in Durham with Jimmy Herring on what he's declared will be his final tour, offering those whose heads have been turned inside out by his music to catch one last glimpse of the fretboard sorcerer in action (and giving latecomers a last chance to play catch-up).

So, why say sayonara to the States? Though McLaughlin is seventy-five, even the most cursory listen to his recent output reveals that his fingers can still dart across the strings with the same superhuman speed that helped make his name nearly half a century ago. Anyone who catches up with him on his final American go-round is similarly certain to confirm that the British guitar phenom can still summon up a mighty storm on his classic material.

Unfortunately, McLaughlin has stated that he does have an advancing case of arthritis, and while he's currently as spry on the strings as ever, the unpredictability of the human frame prevents him from guaranteeing that this will remain the case in the future. So he's decided to go out on a high note, and to end his touring career in the country that helped shape his musicianship.

American music inspired McLaughlin from the beginning, but it was coming to America and playing with Davis that really put him on the path to realizing his destiny. When McLaughlin formed Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971 with fellow musical monsters like keyboardist Jan Hammer and drummer Billy Cobham, he kickstarted the fusion revolution. And American audiences embraced the band's work wholeheartedly.

For these shows, McLaughlin is touring in tandem with Fayetteville's favorite son, Jimmy Herring, who has distinguished himself with his guitar exploits in Widespread Panic as well as his work with Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz Is Dead, The Derek Trucks Band, Phil Lesh, and even The Allman Brothers Band. Herring, an enthusiastic disciple of McLaughlin, is opening the shows with his band The Invisible Whip. Then, after McLaughlin takes the stage with his own ensemble, The 4th Dimension, the two guitarists and their bands will come together for a blowout final set of Mahavisnhu material.

But whether you're among the lucky crowds that get to catch McLaughlin's final run or not, don't fret too much about him. He's got no intention of ending his recording career, and still aims to play the occasional concert (though probably not on our shores). A flame like McLaughlin's burns way too brightly to just flicker out.

music@indyweek.com

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