This may be the EFG London Jazz Festival, but tonight’s openers The Hedvig Mollestad Trio pack a lot of sonic dynamite into their set.
Their music has the improvisational spirit of jazz channelled through Mollestad’s distorted guitar and the highly responsive rhythm section of bassist Ellen Brekken and tub-thumper Ivar Bjørnstad. Traces of Tom Morello shine through Mollestad’s grooves and explosive solos, while the band show their dynamic range in the excellent Ashes, which opens with a Zeppelin-style guitar lick before switching gear into a jazzy bass solo. As the heavily pregnant Mollestad stomps around the stage in her trademark spike heels, this is one power trio truly worthy of the title.
It’s a full house tonight, although with occasions like this, it’s never clear how many people are there because they know the music and how many read about the festival in the paper and fancy a night out. The lady in front of Prog alternates between talking, snogging her boyfriend and taking videos on her phone before she falls asleep about three songs in. But the swell of adulation that greets John McLaughlin’s appearance suggests most of those here tonight know what musical delights lie ahead.
Framed by a halo of white hair that glows under the stage lights, McLaughlin looks like nothing less than the Patron Saint Of Fusion Guitar. He might be in his 70s, but this founding father remains as musically nimble as ever. He makes a very generous bandleader, happy to share the spotlight with the virtuosos of The 4th Dimension – bassist Etienne Mbappe, keyboard player Gary Husband and drummer Ranjit Barot.
The set tonight closely resembles the one captured on this year’s live album The Boston Record, but there are enough surprises to avoid déjà vu. McLaughlin tends to solo in machine-gun bursts of speed, which suits the uptempo tracks like Little Miss Valley and Sulley, but can seem a little abrasive in the quieter moments of Abbaji when there’s unused room to let the notes ring. The only real lull in the set is a performance of Pharoah Sanders’ _The Creator Has A Master Plan, _which never catches fire.
Still, there’s plenty to marvel at in the call and response between McLaughlin and Husband in Guitar Love, or their restrained duet in Senor CS. The multi-talented Husband threatens to steal the show on more than one occasion. As if matching McLaughlin’s fretboard invention and rapid-fire phrasing with the keyboards wasn’t enough, in Echoes From Then and Mother Tongues, Husband swaps his keys for the stage’s second drum kit to slug it out with Barot. With Husband battering the skins, Barot answers with Konnakol vocal percussion and the energy threatens to lift the roof off the Royal Albert Hall. They wrap up the night with Mahavishnu Orchestra’s _You Know, You Know _and leave to a standing ovation.
It’s been 45 years since McLaughlin helped Tony Williams launch the jazz-rock movement. He could be forgiven for resting on his laurels but, surrounded by these passionate and powerful musicians, he remains a captivating, fiery performer.