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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Apocalypse CD (album) cover

APOCALYPSE

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.59 | 176 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars With all of the original members of his innovative and surprisingly popular group scattered to the four winds John McLaughlin decided to make the Mahavishnu Orchestra a REAL orchestra and put together an album with the London Symphony acting as a partner and a whole bunch of his virtuoso friends. By that time every type of music had been joined with an orchestra so why not jazz rock/fusion? When this LP appeared on the record racks in 1974 and I saw that George Martin had produced the project I could hardly wait to get home and revel in some high fidelity fireworks. I was hoping to hear more of the wild, exhilarating hold-on-to-your-seat roller coaster thrills that I had enjoyed from the previous incarnation of this unique band.

With a title like "Power of Love" you might brace for a powerful rush out of the gate but it turns out to be a very subdued, soothing blend of muted orchestra, some intricate acoustic guitar and Jean-Luc Ponty's tasteful violin. It may not be what you expected but after you hear it a few times you can better appreciate its aura of peace and beauty. "Vision is a Naked Sword" is next and it's more along the lines of what you probably anticipated from the get-go. It's a bold attempt to meld the symphony with the band but on this particular song the experiment fails from a lack of cohesion. It begins with a very typical Mahavishnu convoluted melody but this time around the orchestra clumsily performs it. I must mention that drummer Narada Michael Walden replaces the phenomenal Billy Cobham and he does an excellent job. There are brief moments when they approach the tightness of the old group but each time they involve the symphony they lose momentum. After a short drum solo and an electric piano ride from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas the orchestra delivers some ascending swirls that hold promise. But then it drops down to McLaughlin riffing on guitar with Ponty eventually adding violin on top. Unfortunately they stay in this guitar segment too long and it becomes quite tedious. The symphony reenters with the original melody but they can't save this inconsistent mess. "Smile of the Beyond" follows and things get unbelievably weird in a hurry. It features Gayle Moran's smooth vocal over an orchestral score that would be right at home in a Broadway production of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. That's not so tragic in itself but imagine that you're in the audience for this show. Abruptly they transition into an uptempo dance sequence with some contemporary chorale work behind the music. Then out stroll John and Jean-Luc to deliver some avant garde, high velocity, slightly out of tune solos! You'd likely say, "This is so ridiculous it's almost laughable! What in the hell are they doing in this song?" Very strange but that's exactly what happens here. Makes no sense whatsoever. The tune ends with Gayle singing the operatic air as if the rude interruption had never taken place. Yark. Moving right along, "Wings of Karma" gets things back on track. A very pretty symphonic score gives way to a jazzy feel with the guitar and violin providing the melody line. McLaughlin and Ponty both turn in excellent rides over the orchestra as they build up to a frenzy before returning to the opening. With "Hymn to Him" they get it right again. The symphony provides an easy-listening background while the guitar and violin add florid noodlings that rise and fall. Then the orchestra starts to play a theme that grows and grows till McLaughlin finally unleashes his electric guitar and delivers his trademark intensity. Things subside for a piano break from Moran which leads to a new melody played by the guitar and violin together as bassist Ralphe Armstrong shows his stuff. Ponty offers up his best solo then the whole thing escalates to supersonic speed and you receive the long-delayed payoff as John and Jean-Luc trade hot licks wedged between some fiery flourishes from the symphony. The twenty-minute song ends as it began with the orchestra and band descending together in a gorgeous grand finale.

In the history of symphonic experimentation there have been more duds than skyrockets. Using that analogy this one's just a sparkler. McLaughlin certainly had an adventurer's spirit with this project yet he could have benefited enormously from a good dose of selective editing and basic common sense. But the engineering and production are top drawer and, since there are five songs and three of them turned out okay, it's a no-brainer to give this one a solid three stars. Just try not to choke on your Dr Pepper when you hear the ludicrous "Smile of the Beyond."

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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