Joining McLaughlin in the 4th Dimension are Gary Husband on keyboards and drums, Mark Mondesir on drums, and the band's newest member - Etienne M'Bappe on bass. The strength of this group is not only their ability to push and support McLaughlin; it's also the obvious chemistry they have, and the easy band interplay that results from that familiarity. That group dynamic is key when comparing To The One with McLaughlin's other recent work. Take, for example, McLaughlin's two previous studio releases - Floating Point (2008) and Industrial Zen (2006). These were both excellent recordings featuring fantastic musicians and music, but they were really project albums, not band albums. To The One is a band album. There's a unified sound and focus to this disc that stems directly from the fact that you're hearing stage-honed musicians playing together, as a band, in the studio, with few overdubs.
McLaughlin cites John Coltrane's A Love Supreme as a key source of inspiration for this album, and the parallels between that great recording and this one are obvious. For one, both albums have spiritual roots - A Love Supreme represented Coltrane's offering to God; an expression of gratitude for his spiritual awakening. To The One is McLaughlin's personal statement about self-discovery and his acknowledgment of, and reverence for, the "Infinite One." Musically, there are similarities as well. Both albums were written in a short period of time following a burst of creative inspiration, and both were laid down using the leader's highly adept quartet. McLaughlin has recorded homages to Coltrane in the past (e.g., After the Rain), but the specific spiritual influence from A Love Supreme makes this recording a special one.
To The One opens with "Discovery" - an uptempo fusion piece that's strongly propelled by the drumming work of both Mondesir and Husband. McLaughlin's fantastic sixteenth note-laden solo showcases his ability to feed off his fellow musicians, especially the drummer (or drummers), while navigating the chord changes. Husband contributes a great piano solo as well, after which the tune turns downright funky during M'Bappe's bass solo. One of my favorite moments on the album occurs near the end of this track when McLaughlin contributes some free-form outside lines over the drum break.
"Special Beings" is the jazziest piece on the album, and features extended solos by both Husband (on keys) and McLaughlin. The way the two interact near the end of the song (particularly around the 7:20 mark) is a great example of the band chemistry that permeates the entire album.
The heavy riff that opens "The Fine Line" is a clear signal that the band is back in fusion territory. McLaughlin's tone is heavier and more distorted here than on any other song on the disc, and his playing is reflective of the song's jazz-rock vibe as well. McLaughlin rarely "shreds" anymore, preferring instead to string together lines of "mere" sixteenth notes. On "The Fine Line," however, the maestro does some serious burning, especially during the ending cadenza where he reminds us of his legendary status as perhaps the best alternate picker ever.
"Lost and Found" is a gorgeous ballad which is strongly supported by M'Bappe's melodic bass work. This evocative piece also features McLaughlin on guitar synthesizer, using a tone similar to what he had on "14U" from his previous release, Floating Point. "Recovery" acts as a perfect counterpart to "Discovery," as the two share many similar traits including frenetic percussion, and long chromatic-enhanced lines courtesy of McLaughlin. It also features more great examples of the supporting players locking in with the soloists.
The album closes with it's title track; an airy jazz piece that has McLaughlin taking another turn on guitar synth. The Coltrane inspiration is further exemplified here by a faint vocal chant that can be heard near the end of the song (similar to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" chant). And Mahavishnu fans take note - McLaughlin throws in a direct quote from "Lila's Dance" in this piece as well.
To The One is significant among McLaughlin's recent works in that it documents a moment of pure inspiration. It's also a testament to the strength of his band. Their ability to record music of such rhythmic and harmonic complexity essentially live in the studio is remarkable, as is their ability to feed off each other's solo flights to push the music into new areas. Highly recommended.
John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension - To The One (Abstract Logix)
John McLaughlin - Guitar, Guitar Synth
Gary Husband - Keyboards, Drums, Percussion
Mark Mondesir - Drums, Percussion
Etienne M'Bappe - Bass
2. Special Beings
3. The Fine Line
4. Lost and Found
6. To The One