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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Mahavishnu CD (album) cover


Mahavishnu Orchestra


Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.33 | 58 ratings

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The Owl
Prog Reviewer
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.

The Owl | 1/5 |


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