Confession: I was not a Mahavishnu Orchestra fan. There I said it. Oh, I recognized the technical excellence and the energy of the playing, and the groundbreaking new melding of jazz and rock. But, for me, as jazz it didn’t swing and as rock I couldn’t get past McLaughlin’s note-y style and what I considered an inferior guitar tone to legends like Clapton, Beck and Hendrix. In fact, I never really got into the British jazz legend and fusion pioneer until his Coltrane tribute album, After the Rain, with Elvin Jones and Joey DeFrancesco. I loved the sound of his full-bodied archtop through a chorus and his use of the Bigsby to make the end of notes fall off plaintively.
I got to see his tour for this record at the great American Music Hall in San Francisco. For the tour, Dennis Chambers replaced Elvin Jones, significantly changing the vibe, without diminishing the music.
An unquestionable pioneer of modern guitar, (check out his occasional use of ring modulator here, and his later live work playing through a computer), the After the Rain project brought him back to his classic jazz and blues roots while providing me with a route into appreciation of him as a guitarist.