BRIEF SUMMARY HEAVEN!
So there was this fella named John McLaughlin who made a name for himself playing in Miles Davis’s band in the late 1960s. Like pretty much everyone that played for Davis during this time he struck out on his own and became famous. He also became all goofy about India and became a disciple of one of those hilarious 1960s gurus to the stars. He followed the same guru that Carlos Santana did and I bet they had street fights with the Maharashi that the Beatles and Beach Boys fawned over.
Anywho, McLaughlin started a band called MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA and they were awesome. This was their lineup: guitar, violin, keyboards, bass guitar and drums. Oh God it’s awesome! In spite of their jazz backgrounds the music is really rock. You know all that bullshit that people say about Led Zeppelin? About how they were hard rock pioneers but with a distinct and innovative sound and blended unconventional instruments and music ideas into rock? Well, all that is actually TRUE when discussing Mahavishnu. All of their stuff was instrumental. Much of it was quite complicated but never masturbatory. There are never long, extended jack off solos or anything like that. The violin is often distorted and runs through a wah which is SWEEEEEEEEEEEET. The keyboardist uses the funny and funky synth sounds of his day. The compositions is great, sometimes emotional, sometimes pretty rockin’, but never with any singing at all.
Then McLaughlin got a big head and fired the whole band. He returned a couple of years later with a new lineup and attitude and with George Martin as producer. Now there was occasionally singing and whole orchestras were occasionally recruited. The songs became less jazzy and improvisational and more structured. I’m not going to say I like it more than the old stuff but I think it really invites comparision to Led Zeppelin, a battle that LZ easily loses in a major way.
After 3 albums with this lineup Mahavishnu broke up again and McLaughlin started a group called Shakti, based in India. This project was not rock at all. The whole band is made up of Indian musicians but they’re playing primarily Western instruments a la guitar and violin. This stuff is pretty interesting, too, and probably much more so if you like India (I hate India).
Sometime in the 80z McLaughlin probably needed a paycheck and he started a new Mahavishnu Orchestra for one album. It sounds like lame elevator jazz and should be avoided.