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Mahavishnu Orchestra

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Mahavishnu Orchestra Mahavishnu album cover
2.32 | 67 ratings | 6 reviews | 4% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1984

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Radio-Activity (6:53)
2. Nostalgia (5:57)
3. Nightriders (3:49)
4. East Side, West Side (4:49)
5. Clarendon Hills (6:05)
6. Jazz (1:45)
7. The Unbeliever (2:49)
8. Pacific Express (6:32)
9. When Blue Turns Gold (3:22)

Total Time: 42:01

Line-up / Musicians

- John McLaughlin / electric & synth (Synclavier II) guitars, arranger & producer
- Mitchell Forman / piano (5), Fender Rhodes, Yamaha DX7
- Bill Evans / flute, tenor & soprano saxes
- Jonas Hellborg / bass, fretless bass
- Billy Cobham / percussion, drums

- Katia Labeque / piano, Synclavier II & Yamaha DX7 (9)
- Zakir Hussain / tabla (9)
- Hari Prasad Chaurasia / flute (9)
- Danny Gottlieb / percussion

Releases information

Artwork: Xavier Boure with Arthur Elgort (photo)

LP Warner Brothers - 1-25190 (1984, US)

CD Wounded Bird - WOU 5190 (2002, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA Mahavishnu ratings distribution

(67 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(4%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(27%)
Good, but non-essential (33%)
Collectors/fans only (24%)
Poor. Only for completionists (12%)


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by The Owl
1 stars Not normally one given to writing a large amount of negative reviews, however, I have to be painfully honest, this reconstituted "Mahavishnu" effort was a gigantic letdown on many fronts.

As often happens with events like a major musical giant putting together a new version of a groundbreaking band, it does raise the stakes and puts very high expectations on all involved.

From outward appearances, all the right elements seemed to be there:

1. A brand new cutting edge (for the time) guitar synth technology (the Synclavier/Roland digital guitar) that Johnny Mac was just raving about.

2. Drummer Billy Cobham returning to the fold

3. 3 up and coming young instrumentalists of considerable talent (bassist Jonas Hellborg, keyboardist Mitchell Forman and saxophonist Bill Evans, no relation to the late pianist)

But when all was said and done, and the suits at Warner Bros. had their way, what came flowing from the disc was not much better than processed cheese-whiz with classy packaging.

The curtain opens up on the rather tuneless "Radio Activity", amounting to not much more than a bunch of synth bleeps and screamingly 80's sounding Yamaha DX-7 brass stabs over a funk groove. Occasionally something that sounds faintly guitar-like peeks out of the morass, but alas, the whole thing just falls apart before it has a chance to get even halfway interesting.

That faintly guitar-like utterance was in fact our Johnny Mac trying out his latest toy, the Roland/Synclavier digital guitar. Problem is, the thing has about all the presence, guts and warmth of an amplified rubber band.

"Nostalgia" doesn't fare much better, a rather pedestrian set of chord changes at slow tempo, cliched melody on soprano sax and lots of synth. Time for a catnap here.

The killer is, it's next to impossible to discern when McLaughlin's playing and when it's regular keyboards, sadly, this holds true for nearly the entire album.

By the time "Nightriders" rolls around, your ears are just screaming for some real guitar amidst the digital-synth overkill and weak fuzak-lite compositions.

"East Side/West Side" seems to make an attempt at approaching the intensity of Mahavishnu of old, but sadly falls flat on its face. Johnny Mac plugs in a Les Paul Special but unfortunately, unleashes the most painfully tinny sound you ever heard. The pain, the pain!!!!! GOD PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!!!!!!

Things don't get much better as the disc progresses, and it's not until the final track, "When Blue Turns Gold" that even a faint spark of interest happens. Starting with a rippling piano figure matched by tablas and wordless vocals, it gets off to a promising start but then shortly lapses into pseudo-atmospheric synth-driven tedium, and that blasted digital guitar over the top of it all.

After trying to find some reason to like this disc, I just couldn't do it. High expectations, cutting-edge technology and high-caliber musicians do not always add up to great music, and this is one sad example of that.

Thankfully, this phase of McLaughlin's career was short-lived, and by the end of the 80''s, our Johnny Mac was back to producing some of the most challenging and exciting music he'd done in years.

Save your money if you're tempted to buy this one. In all reality, the record company should be paying people to take home this turkey.

Review by Philo
1 stars John McLaughlin did the unthinkable and raised the Mahvishnu Orchestra name in the mid eighties yet with only one other member, despite himself-or even in spite of himself, who was part of the original unit that created such titanic fusion albums with Inner Mounting Flame and Birds Of Fire plus the frenetic live From Nothingness To Eternity album in a two year period from 1971 to 1973. Not forgetting the Lost Trident Sessions which recorded in 1973 finally saw light in 1999. While the early albums were timeless and superb creations Mahavishnu is an album caught in the eighties and suffers from the trappings of a mid eighties mentality and lacking the soul which McLaughlin/Cobham/Evans/Hellborg may have brought to the party if under a different moniker and ambition. Anything released under the Mahavisnhu Orchestra name is going to be compared with those two first albums at least and there would obviously be that feeling and atmopsphere involved in the recording, which could well be part of the failings of this album. That and the expectation that would come with the ushering of a Mahavishnu Orchestra revival. Experimental sometimes but bordering on lethargic, there is little here to excite anyone and only sparks of the exhilarating music McLaughlin is known for. Even the die hard fan would and should have trouble relating to this work. Soon after this albums completion Billy Cobham saw the error of the resurrection and washed his hands of the whole sorry affair.
Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
2 stars The 80s was a strange decade indeed as it succeeded in completely detaching itself from what was happening just a mere decade prior as it cast its spell on the old school music styles that dominated the late 60s to the mid-70s. While a very few prog and jazz artists such as Yes, Genesis and Herbie Hancock found some success adapting to the new world of synthpop and new wave with catchy pop hooks and booty shakin' rhythms, the times were not as kind to the majority of the once mighty pioneers of musical innovation. 
Case in point was John McLaughlin who not only played alongside the great Miles Davis in the 60s but launched one of the greatest jazz-fusion acts ever in the form of the MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA. After a five album run in the 70s it was clear that McLaughlin's run with that particular project had pretty much run its course and he continued on with his solo career as well as the excellent fusion group Shakti but somewhere in the early 80s McLaughlin did something nobody would've expected and that was to reboot his famous jazz-fusion supergroup only with a completely different lineup and a totally unrecognizable stylistic approach.

Having truncated the moniker to a mere MAHAVISHNU with the double billing of John McLaughlin's own name, the band was relaunched with a surprising return of Billy Cobham in the drummer's seat. Along for the ride was newbie (at the time) keyboardist Mitchell Forman along with another newcomer, bassist Jonas Hellborg. When it came to the saxophone and flute sounds, McLaughlin mined his past with former Miles Davis backup Bill Evans and together they took the MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA into a very unexpected strange new world: the world of 80s synthesizer music. While the hardcore fans of yore were probably throwing rotten tomatoes at this unthinkable act, the fact is that the album isn't as horrible as one could imagine. But neither is it great.

Just like the first two incarnations of the mighty MAHAVISNU, this particular lineup would end up recording two albums but it would take this self-titled first one to really get the hang of the sound they were going for. While there is potential lurking around every corner, MAHAVISHNU sounds very much like a rough draft modeled after such jazz turned synth-jazz albums like Herbie Hancock's "Future Shock" or Miles Davis' own "The Man With The Horn" where funk provides the backdrop for jazzy sax squawks and other experiments to wrap around. To give it that totally 80s makeover McLaughlin rocked the house with his brand spankin' new guitar synthesizer which for the most part doesn't sound like a guitar at all much less sound like his signature jazz guitar frenetic style.

The opening "Radioactivity" with its 4/4 time signature and heavy synth runs makes you think you just raided an obscure dance club hit from the era but the jazzy counterpoints lead you to think that this may have been some Herbie Hancock reject as it's not experimental enough to sit alongside such innovative synth-jazz hits as "Rockit" but despite the weak beginning the album actually has some interesting moments. "Nostalgia" drifts into a mediative almost transcendental Oriental feel with a smooth contemplative vibe but is disturbed by the cheesy synth and drum machine claps of "Nightriders" which truly sounds like the worst the 80s had to offer. The rest of the album does deliver some nice jazzy moments such as the excellent "East Side West Side" but sounds much more like the Weather Report than anything remotely 1970s MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA.

Yeah baby, this is a smooth jazz attack with radio friendly conformity written all over it and despite the few sax squawks that threaten to break into anarchy, the album is very much restrained and not in a good way. While the closing "When Blue Turns Gold" displays a glimpse of what could've been with a cameo of Zakir Hussein on tabla and a heady raga flute performance by Hair Prasad Chaurasia, the album as a whole sounds totally unbalanced and not even remotely ready for prime time. Yeah, the once mighty innovator John McLaughlin was mesmerized by the magic spells of the 80s synthesizer and thought he could tame it but it was the synth gods who had the last laugh as John released the absolute worst album that bears the MAHAVISHNU name. Shame, shame, shame.

Latest members reviews

4 stars This is not a rehash of the 70's Mahavishnu Orchestra. It is a completely different band. Just like King Crimson of the 80's was completely different from KC of the 70's, this is similar in regard to the difference in sound of the two bands. This new group is built around guitar and sax wit ... (read more)

Report this review (#83328) | Posted by theaterd | Monday, July 10, 2006 | Review Permanlink

2 stars First off, block out any notion that this is going to be a 1000 decibel blowout ressurection of the Mahavishnu Orchestra of the 1970`s with amps turned up to eleven with lightning speed guitar solos in fluctuating 11/8 time signatures. The album at the time (1984), recieved a thrashing from ... (read more)

Report this review (#77969) | Posted by Vibrationbaby | Friday, May 12, 2006 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Solid effort from McLaughlin and co., not really progressive rock at all, clearly '80's jazz rock. Hellborg is an excellent bassist and turns in a good performance here in particular. While not the most memorable or impressive McLaughlin, not a bad disc at all, just doesn't take off and soar like so ... (read more)

Report this review (#22516) | Posted by Gonghobbit | Thursday, February 12, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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