Sunday, October 8, 2017

John Mclaughlin & Mahavishnu - 1987 "Adventures In Radioland"

Adventures in Radioland is a 1987 album by the John McLaughlin-headed group Mahavishnu, released by the Relativity label which represents McLauglin's interest in electronic technology. It features McLaughlin on Synclavier synthesized guitar.

The album was recorded at Psycho Recording Studios & Sampling in Milan initially by Craigh Milliner then finished by Max Costa and mixed by John McLaughlin and Max Costa. It was released on CD by the Polygram label in 1993.

Yet another revamped Mahavishnu emerged in 1986 and released Adventures In Radioland. McLaughlin was having a hard time in the 1980's obtaining a decent record contract. He eventually found a home at Relativity. Relativity, being a minor label, did not do a good job of distributing Adventures in Radioland. Due to this fact, it is one of the least known albums of McLaughlin’s career. At any rate, although now dated a bit because of the use of electronic drums from time to time, this disc is still a superb piece of work.

The new Mahavishnu was a powerhouse of a fusion band and featured, along with McLaughlin, the overly talented keyboardist Mitchel Forman, former Miles' sideman saxophonist Bill Evans, former Metheny drummer Danny Gottlieb and the amazing bassist, Jonas Hellborg. This album cooks. McLaughlin plays guitar synth, less so than on the previous comeback release of Mahavishnu (recently re-released on Wounded Bird Records). He also employs electric and acoustic guitars and burns through the upbeat, elevating tunes. McLaughlin, Forman and Evans all contribute compositions to the mix. This allows for a variety that is more than welcome.

Highlights include “Florianapolis,” “The Wall Will Fall,” and “Mitch Match.” The interplay between McLaughlin and Forman is a particular pleasing affair. Forman is a near genius. Every effort should be made to obtain his solo recordings, especially his earlier releases. But, all the players are strong and confident. This album proved that FUSION could be good music again!

Though it always served as a forum for his blazing electric guitar, the Mahavishnu Orchestra also represented John McLaughlin's interest in electronic technology and high-intensity group interaction as well. Those features are all present on this 1986 session, with Bill Evans (another alumnus of Miles Davis's OAelectric bands) on soprano and tenor saxophones, Mitchel Forman on keyboards, Swedish musician Jonas Hellborg on bass, and Danny Gottlieb on drums. This version of the group had been together for a couple of years when it recorded Adventures in Radioland, and it achieves a remarkable mating of instrumental virtuosity and sheer hardware. Guitar synth, drum sequencing, and sampling update the Mahavishnu sound of the 1970s, and the fusion genre as well, while the flying runs of a very gifted band continue the tradition. Electronic highlights include McLaughin's "Jozy," a funky tribute to Joe Zawinul, and "Florianapolis" shows the guitarist's lyrical, acoustic side.

I've been listening to this for 24 years, since it came out.
It haunts me to this day. Modern fusion at it's best, years ahead of it's time, or the pinnacle of the fusion era, I can't decide..
I love that John and crew were always searching, for the new and the vast within. There are many styles of music here to pick out in the mix, traditional guitar sounds, modern synths, bop, swing, funk, rock, it's all here. Keyboard player really helps fill out the sound. It's a studio album but has LIVE intensity, to the point I'd say it does better in that regard than most artists do. I've heard all the greats play and they were always better live than the studio album, because they had been touring and really working the tunes for a while, but also it was looser because nobody was afraid of bad notes. Just let go. And John to me, always sounded that way in the studio too! Rare for a musician to just go for it the way he does.

"The Wait" is so amazingly intense, and Bill Evans (!) on sax, tearing it up , Jonas is just RAGING on the bass. This is as good as John ever sounded to my ears, and far more contemporary sounding than the 70's recordings to my ears. Recording quaility is vastly superior to prior Mahavishnu recordings, and the musicianship is obviously more mature and refined. Polished and much more dynamic range than the previous recordings from the 70's. To me the earlier recordings just can't compete with this sonic quality, at all. Night and day.

Anybody complaining about drum sounds is not listening to the the music. The intensity, the depth of the exploration and the unleashed raw power that is John McLaughlin with the best sidemen available. Listen to Jonas Hellborg kill on track 6, he's funky to the max. The saxes are doubled up, and sounds like a section but probably just Bill. So lots of cool new kinds of recording effects mixed with even traditional Flaminco sounds on track 6.

And as well, this recording is minimum, 10 years ahead of it's time, so it still sounds fresh to me, in 2010. Timeless virtuosity and great synth sounds, back when analog synths were still available. Holds up well against anybody you can name in the genre including: Alan Holdsworth (Secrets), Scott Henderson (Tribal Tech), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (checkout Giraldilla 1990!!).

There are techno experimental jazz in some respects, as there are pretty heavy synth parts, very musical in the extreme though. However, like any musical undertaking, there are standouts and near misses in some regards. Not all these tunes hold up as well as others, so be it, all a great effort.
World class in fact, and the playing even on my less favorite tracks has amazing musicians with excellent recording quality.

Track 7 has a very ballzy slow laboring bounce to start, then morphs into almost a bop ride along, light and airy. Sounds like some overdubs on the saxes there, or maybe doubled by the keyboards too. I love these old synth sounds; they don't sound dated, they sound rare and rich to me. Nothing sounds like analog filters and multiple oscillators layered on top of each other. FAT.
Don't believe it, I'll put up a Minimoog or Oberhiem Expander against any keyboard sound in the business. THICK and unprocessed sounding, real. By the end of this track, everybody is just wailing.

The title aptly describes the music on this CD. More often than not, in the world of jazz, these two adjectives are rather like two poles. This is a great jazz/fusion album, with all the chopsy soloing, complex compositions and arrangements you would expect from a top fusion recording by a major artist in the genre. Some people are offended by the dated technology on this recording, firmly placing it in the 80s, but I think that one needs to look beyond appearances into the heart of the music itself - this is without doubt music with heart. Its lightness and joyousness should not be mistaken for shallowness - though nothing like the probing, hungry, searching music of Mahavishnu Orchestra of the '70s, it's as if the searching is over, and whatever John was looking for has been found. I like to think of this album as fusion brought up to date with the current developments in technology and musical ideas, and whose course has been slightly corrected away from rock and toward jazz.

Dance like nobody's watching, Sing like nobody's listening.

Track listing:

1. The Wait (5:35)
2. Just Ideas (2:00)
3. Jozy (For Joe Zawinul) (5:25)
4. Half Man, Half Cookie (2:56)
5. Florianapolis (5:21)
6. Gotta Dance (4:18)
7. That Wall Will Fall (6:00)
8. Reincarnation (2:57)
9. Mitch Match (3:58)
10. 20th Century Ltd (2:31)


- John McLaughlin / electric & synth (Synclavier II) guitars, producer
- Mitchel Forman / keyboards
- Bill Evans / saxophones, keyboards (4)
- Jonas Hellborg / Wal double-neck bass
- Danny Gottlieb / drums, cymbals, Simmons SDS7 electronic drums, Sycologic PSP drum interface