Polygram Records, released October 1986
I first heard brilliant English guitarist John McLaughlin as a very impressionable 15-year-old when I stumbled across the unsettling, brilliant ‘Dance Of Maya’, by his Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was instantly excited and intrigued.
But Adventures In Radioland, the second album from the ’80s reincarnation of Mahavishnu, was released in probably the least-heralded era of John’s music, a time when jazz and fusion seemed to be going in diametrically opposite directions and decent record deals were hard to come by.
With hindsight, it seems the mid-’80s popularity of Pat Metheny was having a huge influence on many instrumentalists and John was no exception; the decade was full of guitarists utilising synthesizer technology and looking to Brazilian songforms for inspiration (an obvious example is Al Di Meola’s Soaring Through A Dream).
But McLaughlin’s take on Metheny was far more raunchy, rooted in bebop and the blues (though the bridge of ‘Floriannapolis’ sounds suspiciously like Metheny’s ‘James’). And what a shocking record Adventures In Radioland was coming from a mainstream jazz artist, a two-finger-salute to the Young Lions neo-bop boom represented by the Marsalis brothers et al.
John seemed to be going out of his way to annoy the jazz purists but in doing so produced some material of worth. Like some of the best fusion music of the ’80s, its deceptively slick production obscures some pretty radical improvisations.
Is the album title wishful thinking? Is this John’s idea of ‘smooth jazz’, designed for radio play? If so, he must be living in a parallel universe because this is one of the weirdest albums of his career.
But, as he said himself in a 1996 interview with Guitar Player magazine, ‘Without madness or fantasy, music’s boring’. This album sure ain’t boring, especially if you’re a guitar fan, but devotees of The Inner Mountain Flame may struggle a bit…
John McLaughlin and Jonas Hellborg
Opener ‘The Wait’ luxuriates in pleasant synth washes and a gorgeous chord sequence for a while before McLaughlin grabs the Les Paul and unleashes one of his most intense solos over quite a funky little R’n’B bass vamp.
‘The Wall Will Fall’ fuses a gargantuan blues riff with nutty Simmonds drums fills, and McLaughlin’s furious solo over high-speed bebop changes is both funny and exhilarating.
‘Florianapolis’ initially steers dangerously towards Metheny territory with its breezy, major-chord cod-Latin groove and nasty DX7 synth sounds. But before you know it, McLaughlin has ripped into an absolutely outstanding acoustic solo, full of rhythmic/melodic risk-taking.
‘Jozy’ is a dramatic, swinging tribute to Joe Zawinul, beautifully marshalled by drummer Danny Gottlieb with some outstanding fretless bass work from Jonas Hellborg. ‘Gotta Dance’ comes on like a fusion Mr Bungle, rattling through mellow acoustic guitar, big-band jazz, Mark King-style slap bass and industrial drums all in the space of four minutes. ‘Half Man Half Cookie’ is even weirder, a kind of post-Scritti Politti pop/funk groove interrupted by yet another incongruous big-band interlude from a multi-tracked (or sampled?) Evans.
But your proclivity for this album will probably be based on your acceptance of the mid-’80s Big Drum Sound. It certainly features some absolutely superb music. McLaughlin regrouped after Adventures and played the nylon-string acoustic exclusively for a few years – make of that what you will.