Mahavishnu Orchestra — Mahavishnu
(Wounded Bird WOU 5190, 1984/2002, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2003-12-01
I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s peak was long past by the time John McLaughlin put this version of the band together. McLaughlin probably regarded this as a somewhat different band anyway, as evidenced by the fact that it was originally released just as Mahavishnu (for this reissue, the “Orchestra” is added). Billy Cobham is the only other Orchestra member present, and the role of melodic foil to the guitar and keys, previously filled by violin, is taken over by Bill Evans on saxes and flute. Listeners expecting the manic edge-of-the-seat energy that made the original band’s first few albums so remarkable will be disappointed; while this is no snooze-fest, the whole thing is more polished and mannered, due in large part to McLaughlin’s avoidance of the guitar. Yes, one of the great guitarists of all time recorded an album on which he plays mostly keyboards and “digital guitar” rather than his main axe. Maybe he was just tired of it and wanted to try something different, though he does rip out exactly one excellent solo on the third track. The results are somewhat mixed, for though there are some great moments, on the whole it’s a little too polite to rank with the best MO. Jonas Hellborg is uniformly good on bass, and Mitchell Forman fills the keyboard role admirably. All of which leaves this album as a curiosity in McLaughlin’s career, far from worthless, but not one of the greats.
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