Among the knocks against fusion is that it too often sacrifices subtlety for loudness and chops. There are counterexamples, but Live @ Ronnie Scott’s by John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension isn’t one. Never averse to introducing subtler elements just so he can pound the hell out of them, the septuagenarian guitar legend—chops as sharp as ever—seems to intend here to wreck what finer details of his compositions he’d left behind.
On the Mahavishnu Orchestra classic “Miles Beyond,” for example, keyboardist Gary Husband delicately sets up a funk-soul groove on Fender Rhodes, only to have McLaughlin’s heavily distorted ax, along with bassist Etienne Mbappe and drummer Ranjit Barot, steamroll it immediately. (McLaughlin likes the effect so much he mimics it, taking over the delicacy and letting Mbappe snowplow it.) He takes a different approach on “Sanctuary,” playing a faithful rendition but underlining every note, beat and timbre. Meanwhile, on already intense pieces like “Meeting of the Spirits,” any facet that even remotely softened the blow, such as the violin ostinato, has to go.