Here is the second incarnation of Mahavishnu Orchestra again, with Narada Michael Walden on drums, Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin on guitar. I have already reviewed Apocalypse (1974), the multi-layered, complex blend of orchestral and other musical genres. That is the first album by this version of Mahavishnu Orchestra.
However, Visions of the Emerald Beyond was the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album that I heard. I guess It was back in 1992 and it was a unique, instantly mind opening experience. The album kicks off mysteriously with Eternity's Breath, parts 1 and 2, with some nice vocal chanting, super cool guitar riffing and guitar/violin interplay. After that comes Lila's Dance, a fantastic composition, where McLaughlin pulls off a completely crazy, tension-filled guitar solo.
He really possesses that very rare skill that not many artists have: while listening to McLaughlin soloing, sometimes you think he has already culminated his solo, but you are mistaken - he somehow manages to choose the right notes to elevate the musical statement to an even higher peak. Lila's Dance contains such a wonderful solo. It is totally out of control, with just insane choice of notes.
The whole album is an incredibly diverse, strange combination of many different musical elements. The meaning of this album to me cannot be overestimated. When I originally bought the Visions of the Emerald Beyond CD, I played it on my portable Technics CD-player practically non-stop from morning to evening, for several days.
Some critics say Mahavishnu Orchestra's art is among the most important music of the 20th century and I agree with that. Personally, listening to Visions of the Emerald Beyond was a certain kind of revelation. Previously, I had only listened to more conventional music harmony-wise, and consequently, my ear had gotten used to the more usual chord progressions and scales that you often hear in traditional jazz, rock, blues and pop.
With the Mahavishnu Orchestra came the mental liberation to think "outside the box". I had started playing the electric guitar, and it occurred to me that I sometimes wanted to play lines that were dissonant, but I was afraid to do so, because my mind had been conditioned to think only about the "standard" western music. To this day, I am very thankful to Ralph Denyer who had included a small article on John McLaughlin in the first edition of his popular The Guitar Handbook. Without that book, it would have probably taken longer to find Mahavishnu Orchestra. Second, I am of course grateful to Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, who has had the courage to invent something completely new and turn the music world upside down while doing so.
I recommend listening to this album many times in a row, as loud as possible. One of the songs is called Be Happy. It contains amazing playing by the whole group and incredible soloing by McLaughlin and Jean-Luc Ponty, so what can you do? You have no other choice than be happy! Yes! Yes! Yes!