Mahavishnu: Clarendon Hills
Mahavishnu (Wounded Bird WOU 5190)
Composed by Bill Evans.
Recorded: Paris, April & May 1984
Rating: 99/100 (learn more)
In 1984, John McLaughlin put together a new band and called it Mahavishnu. He said he named it that because it had the same spirit as his Mahavishnu Orchestra. In fact, there was a behind-the-scenes effort to put the original band back together. It did not work. In the end, Billy Cobham, from the original band, did join with John for this recording. However, a rift developed between McLaughlin and Cobham at this time, and Billy did not tour with the new Mahavishnu.
The sound of this Mahavishnu was more sophisticated. It was not dirty or rough as perhaps preferred by McLaughlin's older fans. But its players were from the higher echelons. Hellborg and Forman were going places. Cobham had already been. Bill Evans had the knowledge and the ability to play side by side with McLaughlin on stage. John was now playing an early guitar synthesizer made by the Synclavier people. In concert, the Synclavier was a big hit. It was as if McLaughlin could play any instrument he wanted at any time. He would flick a few switches to start playing with a music patch he had earlier input into the device. He would play trumpet, trombone or a keyboard instrument. He could play any instrument really. It was fascinating. And he didn't play those patches like a guitar player would. He would phrase as a trumpet, trombone or keyboard player would. This set him apart from all of the other guitar players trying to work these newfangled guitar synthesizers. But hearing him play the Synclaivier was entirely different on record. You couldn't see all that stuff he was doing. So you would listen to the new recording and wonder where the heck the world's greatest guitar player was? You just couldn't hear him! The compositions were good enough musically to carry some weight. But in the end, the experiment failed. One tune, though, did overcome this obstacle.
"Clarendon Hills" was written by saxophonist Bill Evans, who had left Miles Davis to join Mahavishnu. It didn't matter if McLaughlin's axe sounded like a bagpipe on this one. (For the record, it sounded sort of like a combination trombone and Moog.) The tune was that good. "Clarendon Hills" kicks some serious ass. It is introduced with a full-on clarion call. It quickly evolves into a driving jazz-rock anthem. This band could groove! Then there is sudden calm. Evans plays a beautiful section. McLaughlin, sounding like Evans at first, takes over midstream. Sonorously, he flies above the music. He's captured a wave. The band needs to calm down to contemplate what they have just done. After some soothing electric meddling, Cobham ramps things up for the final call of this awesome horn and pseudo-brass section. It may have not been totally real. But it was totally great.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky