John McLaughlin follows up his orchestral project Thieves and Poets (2003) with something more aggressive and sonically ambitious. Industrial Zen is a complex fusion outing with a rotating cast of virtuoso players. The gifted Gary Husband, of Allan Holdsworth fame, plays keyboards as well as drums. The bassists are Tony Grey, Matthew Garrison and the astounding up-and-comer Hadrien Feraud. The drummers, besides Husband, are Vinnie Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers and Mark Mondesir. We also hear from Bill Evans and Ada Rovatti on saxes, Zakir Hussain on tabla, Otmaro Ruíz on synth and (on two tracks) Shankar Mahadevan on vocals.
McLaughlin is in good form, going head to head with fellow axeman Eric Johnson on “New Blues Old Bruise” and playing mournful fretless guitar on the closing electronica piece “Mother Nature.” But Industrial Zen is not a shred-a-thon. McLaughlin takes credit for synth programming on all eight tracks, and his textures are multidimensional and contemporary. The music has a globalist aesthetic that can bring to mind artists like Talvin Singh and Karsh Kale. McLaughlin’s guiding logic, however, is harmonically involved modern jazz—the evidence includes titles like “For Jaco,” “Wayne’s Way” and the Michael Brecker-dedicated “To Bop or Not to Be.”