When “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond” by the American jazz/fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra was released in February 1975, I wasn´t on board right away. I hopped on by John Mclaughlin and associates 5 years later when a friend of mine gave me the album. To my experience the LP is a gift from heaven; at that time there isn´t much going on in the world of sympho-rock. With “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond” a door has opened for me to the interesting subgenre of progressive jazz rock and since then my piggy bank has often been upside down.
“Visions Of The Emerald Beyond” is the forth studioalbum of the band, after two studio LPs in a different line-up and then “Apocalypse” that was recorded with a symphony orchestra. Together with its predecessor this album gives the band a recognizable face of the second line-up.
The songs of the album have a large injection of funk and although I am no advocate of this genre, I find it totally in place, especially with those horns. Obviously Mclaughlin has gathered some great musicians around him. The whole album has great drums by Michael Walden. The way he starts the first part of Eternity’s Breath is so very overwhelming which gives him credits for the rest of the album. This mega-drumbreak is followed by some delicious funky guitar, driven singing by Gayle Moran with an almost frightening effect and a marvelous violin-virtuosity by maestro Jean-Luc Ponty.
In the second part of Eternity’s Breath, in addition to the infectious Fender Rhodes by Moran, we hear a lot of magnificent guitar playing by McLaughlin. This two-part song asks for so much more and that’s what you get. In particular, the six tracks on side A keep you constantly glued to the boxes. Lila’s Dance opens with sparkling piano and then there is a rippling piece of guitar with nice drums. The song dives into a tasty get-together between the pleading guitar of John Mclaughlin and the groovy bass playing of Ralphe Armstrong. When the whole band joins in, Mclaughlin and Ponty get into duel, what a spectacle. The song ends as it began, rippling and sparkling. Another pearl is Can’t Stand Your Funk. That the title gives it all away is not an issue at all, I can quickly move on to the next songs. Pastoral is a beautiful number full of strings and although there are only three players besides Ponty, it is bursting with joy. The A side closes with the fragmentary Faith which is a harbinger of things to come.
The seven songs of side B form one unity, based on the many spacey song titles and the fact that the tracks are attached to each other. The result is a colorful and psychedelic epic with whimsical moments in Cosmic Strut and the busy Be Happy with contrasting passages of falsetto vocals and flute. Despite their differences, both sides form a strong cohesive album. The strength of the album for me is clearly in the six songs of the A side. If you like jazz rock that swings like a horse and carriage on a bumpy road and you are not averse to a game of sizzling violin, then “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond” is definitely something for you.
© Dick van der Heijde 2022