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Mahavishnu Orchestra

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Mahavishnu Orchestra Inner Worlds (Columbia)

Guitarist John McLaughlin, the former Mahavishnu, has shed most of his expanded Orchestra to step out with a stripped-down jazz-rock quartet on his latest Columbia Records outing, an erratic collection of electronic space vessels titled Inner Worlds. The Mahavishnu's clean-cut physiognomy staring out from the cover promises some clear, deep, introspective music, but the "deep" numbers on the album "River of My Heart," "Inner Worlds Part 1" "In My Life," "Gita," "The Way of the Pilgrim"–are boring, superficial exercises in guru bliss with a tired studio-rock sound like they play on the FM radio, overlaid with synthesizer gimmickry and a tricky cosmic-type approach.

Happily there is another aspect to this album, that represented by "All in the Family," "Miles Out," "Lotus Feet" and bassist Ralphe Armstrong's catchy "Planetary Citizen," a peace-love anthem featuring the popular Detroiter's loose, soulful vocal. "Miles Out" is the high point of the record, with a Herbie Hancock bottom and a definite Miles Davis feeling throughout, clearly articulated via keyboardist Stu Goldberg's Mini-Moog and McLaughlin's ' 360' Systems Frequency Shifter. "All in the Family" also pays homage to an earlier Miles, the Spanish-tinged expressionist of the Sketches of Spain sessions, white lighting a fire rhythmically and fanning the flames with some well-controlled feedback via McLaughlin's guitar synthesizer.

When the material gives them a chance, McLaughlin, Goldberg, Armstrong and drummer Michael Walden play as well as one expects them to, and on balance their moving moments outweigh the cosmic garbage. Maybe now that McLaughlin has jettisoned his guru and is ready to open up to some other influences, he can attach himself to the genuine master of space music in our time, the truly cosmic Sun Ra, and learn how to travel the spaceways for real. Until then, this slightly ersatz Inner World will have to do.

–John Sinclair