Mahavishnu: Pacific Express


Pacific Express




Mahavishnu (Wounded Bird Records WOU 5190)

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John McLaughlin (Synclavier II, digital guitar, Les Paul Special),

Bill Evans (sax, flute), Mitchell Forman (keyboards), Jonas Hellborg (bass), Billy Cobham (drums)


Composed by John McLaughlin


Recorded: Paris, France, April-May 1984


Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

For much of my professional career, I was in the photography business. I started in retail working in a Caldor department store's photo section, where I was eventually promoted to manager. I became very knowledgeable about photography, learning about both the equipment and the art and science of it. I would take long backpacking hikes with my lenses, tripods and five different types of film. My fellow hikers would get upset with me because I would stay in a location for an hour waiting for the proper light to take a picture of a dead tree. They would scream at me to move on! In time I left retail to join Vivitar, a leading photographic company most famous for its lenses and flash units. The strangest thing happened, though. The more cameras I sold, the less interested I became in photography. It is funny how that happens. I gave away all my equipment years ago. Today I take out a digital camera and snap the obligatory family shots. I am happy to have a loving family, but that old joy of composing and framing a shot is all but lost. Lest you think this story can't possibly have anything to do with Mahavishnu's performance of "Pacific Express"

Although the intro to "Pacific Express" seems to have been partly played on a kid's jack-in-the-box, in fact it was played on one of the era's most advanced synthesizers. After which a female voice with a Japanese accent, sounding like it came out of a transistor radio, says repeatedly: "Too dark." Are you still with me? Finally a pleasing drawn-out melody appears. Because McLaughlin was using a guitar synthesizer, there is some doubt as to who is playing lead. My guess is that it was McLaughlin. Bassist Jonas Hellborg takes his impressive solo turn, followed by Bill Evans's (sax) skittering turn. Billy Cobham then gets his chance to pound away. The next solo is clearly McLaughlin, though it sounds like a flute. The phrasing is a dead giveaway. Allusions to the jack-in-the-box return as this enjoyable fusion workout wraps up. But before the final note, our Japanese friend returns. This time she says: "Too Dark. Use flash." Many fans were confused by this message. I was not one of them. I knew the very first time I heard the voice where it had come from. Minolta made a camera that talked. It was called the Minolta Talker. I sold a ton of them! It would vocally tell you when the batteries were weak or when your film needed to be changed. It could do so in several languages. I always found it funny that the English version was spoken with a Japanese accent. The camera also told you when you needed more light to take a picture: "Too dark. Use flash." It was a silly idea, really. But now you know the rest of the story!

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

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