Thursday, December 08, 2011

Musical Interlude: Smile of the Beyond

Something like three years ago I waxed rapturously about my favorite "fusion" album of all time, "Apocalypse" by the second incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra of John McLaughlin. When I stumbled across this video and considered posting it here I realized I had said just about all I had to say about that album back then, but I still love this music. This oddly distorted video is from a mid-1970s live performance at Montreux: it's better than the video or sound quality of a number of other youtube versions, and a bit different than the album cut. But it's cool to see the musicians play, and you get to see spacey Gayle Moran actually sing what is, I guess, an actual fusion ballad: at least it starts out that way. The lyric is vintage early 1970s Sri Chinmoy devotee melding of sacred and profane. Sort of a codependent religious hymn, near as I can tell. God, like all lovers, is difficult sometimes.

Fusion didn't age well. This song displays something of the emotional range of fusion, and the tension between controlled virtuosity and ecstatic chaos that marked the best of the music in its early days. Uncontrolled cock-stroking keyboard and guitar wankery eventually took over leaving the sound sterile and uninteresting, at least to me. By the 1980s, fascination with digital technological effects choked the life out of it. Here the mix of funk and art seems alive and promising.

As a bonus here's the album version below, for contrast, which is heavier on the string orchestra at the beginning. I do recommend the whole album.


  1. i could not agree more about fusion dying so sadly, ish.

    but i have always preferred the original mahavishnu lineup with billy cobham. that dude could play.

  2. My boyfriend just gave me a bunch of those first Mahavishnu albums. I like the more elaborate sound of the later ensembles better, but those first guys were really good. I actually probably like Jerry Goodman a little better than JLP on violin.