Sunday, September 3, 2017

Shakti - 1977 - Natural Elements

Shakti 
1977
Natural Elements



01. Mind Ecology (5:48)
02. Face to Face (5:56)
03. Come on Baby Dance with Me (1:57)
04. The Daffodil and the Eagle (7:01)
05. Happiness is Being Together (4:27)
06. Bridge of Sighs (3:52)
07. Get Down and Sruti (7:01)
08. Peace of Mind (3:21)

- John McLaughlin / acoustic guitar, vocals, producer
- L. Shankar / violin, viola, vocals
- Vikku Vinayakram / ghatam, nal, kanjeera, morsing, vocals
- Zakir Hussain / tabla, timbales, bongos, dholak, nal, triangle, vocals

Recorded and Mixed at Aquarius Studios, Geneva, Switzerland, July 1977.


Shakti was really the world’s first World Music super group. The only problem was that no one knew it yet! The group’s live performances were mesmerizing, but Columbia couldn’t give the albums away. Natural Elements, from 1977, was the third and last Shakti album. It offered a more cohesive and structured presentation in terms of themes and shorter tunes. The group attempted to make the music more accessible by including pleasing hooks and some humor, but there was no chance that this music would ever gain mass popularity in the Western world.

Natural Elements includes some mind-altering playing. This is especially true of McLaughlin's guitar on "Face to Face". His solo is a career highlight: he quite literally tears apart the elements of every scale, seamlessly dipping in and out of flowing lines and time changes. The speed and clarity he achieves are not the product of a mortal man. 

The funk representative is "Get Down and Sruti," which has a delightful kick propelled by L. Shankar’s violin. The use of the juice harp (mouth harp) throughout the album is a welcome addition which complements the band's sound. Natural Elements avoids the long drum conversations featured on the first two albums, which leaves percussionists Zakir Hussain and “Vikku” Vinayakaram with fewer moments in the sun.

In a rather bizarre way, the jazz-Indian Natural Elements is more accessible than many of McLaughlin’s Western jazz-rock recordings. The shorter tunes and infectious hooks may have been a last ditch effort to salvage the business side of things, but they worked out musically as well. Despite the beauty and fun of this album, it was obvious the music was running out of steam and it was time to move on. At this time, Shakti just didn’t have a lot left unsaid. 

Shakti - 1977 - A Handful Of Beauty

Shakti 
1977 
A Handful Of Beauty



01. La Danse du Bonheur (4:48)
02. Lady L (7:23)
03. India (12:31)
04. Kriti (2:58) (trad. South Indian composition)
05. Isis (15:11)
06. Two Sisters (4:41)

- John McLaughlin / acoustic guitar, producer
- L. Shankar / violin
- Vikku Vinayakram / ghatam, mridangam
- Zakir Hussain / tabla

Recorded in Trident London August 1976.


John McLaughlin should have given this album a different name. Jazz-rock fans of the day (early 1977) did not want to be seen purchasing an album with such a title. It didn't help any to have a picture of John McLaughlin on the cover dressed and smiling as if he were a guru himself. Let’s face facts, even at this time: McLaughlin’s fans came from a rock background. In hindsight the Indo-jazz-fusion Shakti recordings are considered highlights in McLaughlin’s career, but they did cost him most of his early fan base.

In stark contrast to its album cover indicating joy and peace and all the related elements that were stretched beyond endurance in the 1970's, Handful of Beauty was in reality a dark and somber creation. Despite the opening cut, a free-spirited and wildly fun "La Danse Du Bonheur", this album features mostly dense compositions that provoke deep re-appraisals of one's own life. The musical highlight is "India". The tune seems to investigate the underside of the Eastern World and finds McLaughlin ominously bending and twisting notes while Shankar's violin dwells in the lower registers. 

Of the three original Shakti albums, Handful of Beauty features the best playing from McLaughlin. Somber does not mean boring. The two master Indian percussionists Zakir Hussain and T. S. Vinayakaram provide the rhythm and much of the dynamic. The incomparable L. Shankar helps provide the mood. (It is too bad he and McLaughlin no longer seem to be friends in real life.) 

As was later to be the case on the group's Natural Elements, one of the highlights of the two Shakti studio recorded efforts is the high quality of sound engineering. This album should be played relatively loud, late at night, lights-off, while you sip from a cup of tea. Best to be in a reflective mood.

Listening to the tour that supported this recording was a different matter entirely. The same tunes that had led to introspection suddenly led to emotional release. The band was hot and an absolute joy to see, both visually and sonically.

Shakti - 1976 - Shakti with John McLaughlin

Shakti 
1976
Shakti with John McLaughlin



01. Joy (18:13)
02. Lotus Feet (4:44)
03. What Need Have I for This - What Need Have I for That - I Am Dancing at the Feet of My Lord - All Is Bliss - All Is Bliss (29:03)


- John McLaughlin / acoustic guitar
- L. Shankar / violin
- Zakir Hussain / tabla
- T. H. Vinayakram / ghatam, mridangam
- Ramnad V. Raghavan / mridangam

Recorded live at South Hampton College, Long Island, New York, July 5, 1975



I remember quite clearly walking through the aisles of the Sears record department checking to see if there was a new Mahavishnu Orchestra album. What stared back at me from the Mahavishnu bin was a very strange looking album cover. John McLaughlin had longish hair and a tight, confident smile, and he was holding the oddest-looking acoustic guitar I had ever seen. It had an extra set of strings attached in a crooked fashion across the sound hole. The information on the back cover made matters even worse. I remember wondering who this Raghavan guy was, and what the hell was this mridangam that he was playing? I'm still not truly sure what a mridangam is, but I am quite sure I love Shakti.

McLaughlin had abandoned the electric Mahavishnu Orchestra and put together a band featuring some of India's greatest young musicians, thus dooming his popularity. Together with McLaughlin, tabla master Zakir Hussain, violin virtuoso L. Shankar, and ghatam player T.S. Vinayakaram made up Shakti. Although not a core member of Shakti, the previously mentioned Raghavan also joined in on the previously mentioned mridangam. With names like that and 30 minute long tunes, Shakti did not get much airplay in the U.S.

Shakti was recorded live at South Hampton College in New York State, and the live audience is truly a part of this performance. One can only imagine what they were expecting before the concert. McLaughlin had earned his fame as Mahavishnu. He was the king of the electric guitar. Instead, he appeared on stage with the acoustic Shakti, sitting down Indian style. The drones started humming. This had to be bizarre. 'Pass the joints. Quick!' However, several minutes into the first piece, Shakti had the crowd in its hands.

Blistering guitar runs, unison playing among all the players, and mesmerizing percussion duels make Shakti one of the most exciting live recordings around. Shakti created as vast a fusion as could be imagined at the time. The musicians were introducing World Music, albeit with a wild jazz abandon, twenty years before anyone else even attempted such a thing again.

McLaughlin was speed-bending notes and strumming those extra sympathetic strings which had been positioned on his guitar. Shankar's Far Eastern violin matched McLaughlin's guitar in call and response after call and response. And without a doubt, the album's high water mark is the culmination of an absolutely riveting percussion duel between Hussain and Raghavan resolving the oddly-titled 'What Need Have I for This? What Need Have I for That? I am Dancing at the Feet of my Lord. All is Bliss. All is Bliss'. It appears the audience shared in a group musical orgasm at that moment.

According to Jeff Beck, McLaughlin's playing with Shakti was as good as any player could hope to do. The original Shakti never sold a lot of records. But today they are seen as one of the true pioneers, and their current reunion version is at long last commercially viable.

A special note to guitar speed freaks: this album contains the fastest guitar playing John McLaughlin ever recorded.

Mahavishnu Orchestra - 1975 - Inner Worlds

Mahavishnu Orchestra
1975
Inner Worlds



01. All in the Family (6:01)
02. Miles Out (6:44)
03. In My Life (3:22)
04. Gita (4:28)
05. Morning Calls (1:23)
06. The Way of the Pilgrim (5:15)
07. River of My Heart (3:41)
08. Planetary Citizen (2:14)
09. Lotus Feet (4:24)
10. Inner Worlds Pts. 1 & 2 (6:33)


- John McLaughlin / electric, acoustic (3) & synth (1,4-6,9,10) guitars, E-Mu synth (10), backing vocals
- Stu Goldberg / organ, piano, clavinet (8), synths (MiniMoog, Synthacon, String), backing vocals
- Ralphe Armstrong / bass, double bass (7), lead vocals (8)
- Michael Walden / drums, percussion (congas, bass marimba, timpani, shaker, bells, gong), piano (3,7), organ (5), lead (3,4,7) & backing vocals


With the MkII line-up partly broken up (Moran, Ponty, the strings and brass are gone), McLaughlin kept the Walden-Armstrong rhythm section and set out to the Herouville Chateau studios and recorded in the summer of 75 what would be known as the last real Mahavishnu Orchestra, except if you count the 84 reformation. All of the missing musicians of the second line-up were not replaced except for Gayle Moran by organist Stu Goldberg, which for this writer is an improvement. With a bland artwork showing who's the master on board, this album is a difficult one, because it sounds least to the usual MO sound. Much maligned by partly undeservedly so, imho.
Indeed this album often glides between Santana, B Auger's Oblivion Express, Jeff Beck albums (Wired and BBB), which in itself is no flaw, but surprising. With the organ-dominated, but Carribean-beating All In The Family, Narada Walden is in full form, making this 100MPH track a very enthralling opening cut with unfortunately Mc playing the guitar synth, thus taking some of the bite of his sound, but not affecting his playing. Miles Out sounds like Beck's best torture of a string set on a neck, but Mc uses synths to enhance the cosmic sounds, before Armstrong introduces a riff, easing Narada's arrival and the quartet cruises from one galaxy to the other. While very expressive a track (especially during those days), this type of space rock sounds a bit dated, today. Narada sings the next tracks, In My Life and Gita, something that would give a very late 70's/early 80's Santana feel and on other tracks of this album, close to Auger's Oblivion Express. I certainly am not saying Walden's voice resembles Litgerwood's, but the tracks he sings on have that kind of feeling. In either case, all of the sting of the previous MO album are gone, and it is certainly not the short bagpipe tune played on dumb guitar synth (interestingly, Narada is on organ here) that would change things.

The flipside starts on the more convincing Way Of The Pilgrim, but Mc (sometimes) exaggerates with his technology frenzy, helped by Goldberg's mini-moog, but nevertheless, it's one of the album's better tracks. River of My Heart is to bunch with In My Life, where Narada proves that his ideas (this is the only non-Mc track) are not that easy to absorb on an MO album. The ultra funky Planetary Citizen, then the more reflective Lotus Feet, which is from far the proggiest track, loaded with mini-moog and (unfortunately) Mc's guitar synth, are giving a bit of substance to the album, before the two-part title track takes us again in outer space, sometimes taking Jeff Beck tonalities as in Freeway Jam. This ultra bizarre up-tempoed, partly improvised and completely crazy is not a bad outro for an MO exit.

Clearly not MO's best album, Inner World doesn't really deserves all 100% of the bad rap and rep it endures (but 50%, certainly ;o)), many MO fans are may be a little harsh on it, but had it comes with a better artwork (ala Emerald), I'm sure it would've better better with them.

Every McLaughlin album has something to offer, and Inner Worlds is no exception. However, it is easily McLaughlin's weakest outing. 

Released in 1976, Inner Worlds features the third and scaled down edition of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. No more strings. No more horns. No more Ponty. Was this album made just to finish the contract out? Who knows? After the exciting Visions Of The Emerald Beyond, this record was a disappointment. So much more had been expected.

Michael Walden on drums, Stu Goldberg on synthesizer and Ralphe Armstrong on bass add their highly capable talents to the mix, and McLaughlin unveiled an early guitar synthesizer on this album to varied results. 

The album certainly features some fine music. You just have to search for it. The strong R&B influence present on this record did not go over well with many of McLaughlin’s fans. Perhaps he attempted to make an album he thought would be more accessible. After all, the Mahavishnu Orchestra had often been criticized as being just too serious. Again, who knows?


An interesting postscript: years later, Ralph Armstrong successfully sued a rap group for sampling his vocals from the Inner Worlds tune "Planetary Citizen".

Mahavishnu Orchestra - 1973 - Performed By The Musicians

Mahavishnu Orchestra
1973
Performed By The Musicians



August 14, 1973
Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville, IL

101. Birds Of Fire
102. Sister Andrea
103. Hope / Awakening
104. Open COuntry Joy
105. Dream
106. Celestial Terrestrial Commuters

December 27, 1973
Avery Fisher Hall
New York City, NY

201. Birds Of Fire
202. Sister Andrea
203. Dance Of Maya

301. Dream
302. Trilogy


Bass – Rick Laird
Drums – Billy Cobham
Guitar – John McLaughlin
Piano – Jan Hammer
Violin – Jerry Goodman




Recorded at the Mississippi River Festival inside a giant tent at Southern Illinois University, it served as a warm-up exercise for that famous Central Park concert and is, indeed, the performance that preceded it. This makes it a particularly interesting listen, and while "Sister Andrea" and "Dream" won't surprise those familiar with the live album versions, the additional "Birds Of Fire" material and a truly explosive performance of "Awakening" greatly widens one's perspective on the band at the time that live album was recorded.

"Birds Of Fire" is the dramatic opener. Billy Cobham's gong, panning back and forth in the PA system interrupts the silence, as McLaughlin's 12-string arpeggios begin washing over the audience. A dynamic exchange between guitar and drums on one side and violin, keyboards and bass on the other unfolds. In the unusual time signature of 18/8, the interwoven nature of the arrangement makes for a thrilling and intense experience, although one unlike anything most jazz or rock music fans had ever heard before. Next up is Jan Hammer's "Sister Andrea." Uncharacteristically funky, this elastic groovefest features sizzling solos from McLaughlin, wild bursts of unorthodox sounds from Hammer, and highlights the grittier side of Goodman's violin virtuosity. The initial opening sequence dissolves into a more tranquilizing middle section that inspires emotional speed playing from McLaughlin, who is overflowing with creativity here.

They continue with "Hope," unfolding in an elegant, magisterial way, before Cobham suddenly blasts off into "Awakening." This has moments of frightening intensity, and the telepathy between these musicians is functioning at an astounding level. There's an aggressiveness to this performance that may be reflective of problems within the band, but the chemistry between these musicians is undeniable and astonishing. After nearly 20 minutes of high tension playing, "Open Country Joy" comes wafting over like a cool summer breeze. This strutting, gradually intensifying urban blues is the least complex, most accessible music this lineup ever played. Vacillating between a laidback country feel and frenzied rocking power, its disarming, rustic theme provides contrast to what preceded it. McLaughlin's and Hammer's instrumental flights are tightly woven here, joyously dancing around each other and displaying their breathtaking improvisational abilities.

The "Dream" featured here allows the group to stretch out again. As captivating as the released version recorded just a few days later, this is one of the group's finest explorations during their final months together. A masterpiece of tension and release, "Dream" is equal parts lush and ferocious and features four distinct time signatures! It begins in a tranquil manner, with McLaughlin and Goodman establishing the initial theme. At approximately five minutes in, Cobham signals the rest of the musicians to join in. Rick Laird establishes a strong groove on bass, which is reinforced by Hammer, who then begins soloing. For much of this performance, Hammer is in particularly fine form, often leading the way. Goodman's violin states the theme again several minutes later, before a ferocious jam ensues, and prompts swift tempo increases. This becomes a head-spinning display of creativity and technical virtuosity. Toward the end, McLaughlin takes a searing solo that develops into ferocious instrumental combat between Billy Cobham and him, before all reinstate the theme and bring the set to a dramatic close.

They return for a brief encore; an explosive "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters." This features expressive soloing from Hammer and blazing call and response sequences between Goodman and McLaughlin. Although relatively short compared to the highly improvisational material featured earlier in the set, this is another thrilling hyperdrive performance. The improvisational abilities of the group were at the most astonishing level during this latter part of 1973. All of this music burns with an intensity few groups have ever matched in live performance. The Mahavishnu Orchestra's tempestuous mix of jazz, rock, and Eastern influences is at its peak here. This is a vivid example of the band taking improvisation to the extreme. All of the musicians are clearly challenging themselves to push the envelope here, with constantly surprising and utterly compelling results.



This Mahavishnu Orchestra performance, recorded on the first night of a two-night stand at New York City's Avery Fisher Hall, captures one of the very last performances ever by the legendary original lineup. This recording is a fascinating glimpse of the group at the tail end of their existence. In July of 1973, Mahavishnu Orchestra convened at London's Trident Studios to record their ill-fated third studio album. By this point, the relationships within the band were strained and the resulting recordings, which for the first time featured compositions by bandmembers other than McLaughlin, would not see the light of day for several decades. In August and September, McLaughlin and Cobham embarked on a tour with Carlos Santana, further straining the relationships within the band, which would dissolve by the end of the year. The initial classic lineup of the group lasted less than three years and only released two studio albums and one live recording during this era, but these recordings had a profound effect, redefining the jazz/rock fusion movement in the process. Combining the improvisational elements of jazz with the volume and energy of rock music, Mahavishnu Orchestra created music that was often intricate and complex, performed by musicians whose virtuosity thrilled audiences, musicians and critics alike.

While an argument can be made that the band was more cohesive and eloquent earlier in their all-too-brief career, the performances toward the end of 1973 are simply staggering in their ferocity. This night's recording begins with Billy Cobham's massive gong, as McLaughlin's 12-string arpeggios begin washing over the audience. "Birds Of Fire" is a dramatic opener that unfolds into a dynamic exchange between guitar and drums versus violin, keyboards and bass. In the unusual time signature of 18/8, the interwoven nature of the arrangement makes for a thrilling and intense experience, although one unlike anything most jazz or rock music fans had ever heard before. This is followed by the Jan Hammer composition, "Sister Andrea." Uncharacteristically funky, this elastic groovefest features sizzling 12-string solos from McLaughlin, wild bursts of unorthodox sounds from Hammer and highlights the grittier side to Goodman's violin virtuosity, which sashays and swings, as he pumps his signal through a wah-wah pedal.

The group truly begin hitting their stride on "The Dance Of Maya," with its infectious rhythmic pattern complimenting the melodic line. The set continues with a heavily improvised version of "The Dance Of Maya." There are many moments of brilliance here, but what stands out overall is that here the group is obviously having a wonderfully joyous experience. Following the initial theme, the rhythm section drops out completely leaving the remaining trio. The interaction between Goodman's pizzicato violin, McLaughlin guitar and Hammer's electric piano is full of a humor and playfulness that is absolutely delightful. Cobham and Laird eventually join back in and after a few surprising stop/starts to jolt the audience, they launch into a cosmic jamfest with Jerry Goodman as the primary pilot, before McLaughlin rips into a pulverizing solo with Billy Cobham in tow. The unison playing here is thrilling. At times one can sense the musicians toying with each other. Despite McLaughlin's blazing speed and unpredictability, Cobham never misses a beat—another mind-blowing display of musical telepathy. This eventually becomes a delicate call and response with Hammer adding his gurgling mini-moog embellishments, before all converge and reinstate the song's theme, bringing it to a gloriously satisfying close nearly 20 minutes later.

Following the captivating take on "Dance Of Maya," they tackle another extended number, "Dream." Again, there is an abundance of exploratory and propulsive playing here, but one of the most interesting aspects of this performance is that McLaughlin plays the first sequence on acoustic guitar, and it is far more compelling than the live version featured on Between Nothingness And Eternity, recorded the previous August. Often this initial sequence was merely a dreamy contemplative introduction to the fireworks to come, but here it is absolutely beautiful and McLaughlin's playing has far more depth and character and Goodman's haunting violin phrases are all the more compelling for it. Despite hollering and rudeness from the audience (which is audible on the recording), McLaughlin remains focused. As the second, faster section begins, Hammer unleashes his trademark barrage of chords and arpeggios on his Fender Rhodes as the band begins building an elegant melody line. This becomes a head-spinning exercise as McLaughlin and Goodman lock together in unison driving the main section of the composition. This is fast and furious playing at its most intense, with various duets emerging in and out of the fray. This is a jaw-dropping performance that is simply overflowing with energy; seemingly superhuman in its seething intensity.

The recording ends with another track from the Trident sessions, "Trilogy." The first passage develops into an elaborate trade-off between McLaughlin and Hammer, with the guitar dominating. The second section features Goodman's violin dominating and Hammer providing birdcall effects with his synthesizers. Cobham's drumming is particularly impressive during this passage. Then the group suddenly launches into the third section—a aggressive hyperactive jam, first featuring a brief violin solo followed by a scorching solo from McLaughlin. The entire group develops an impressive repetition based on McLaughlin's lead riff that remains captivating as the tape stock unfortunately ran out shortly before the conclusion of the show.

This recording, paired with the following night's recording at the same venue, would be the original lineup's final performances in New York City. Taken together, they provide a wonderful picture of the band's later era material performed at the most extreme levels of improvisation.

Mahavishnu Orchestra - 1973 - Nothingness And Eternity

Mahavishnu Orchestra
1973
Nothingness And Eternity



March 11, 1973
Orpheum Theatre
Boston, MA
(Early And Late shows)

101. Meeting Of The Spirits
102. Open Country Joy
103. Noonward Race
104. One Word

201. Hope
202. Awakening

303. Bird Of Fire
304. Miles Beyond
305. Dream (Part 1)

401. Dream (Part 2)
402. One Word
403. Sanctuary
404. The Dance Of Maya
405. Vital Transformation

Bass – Rick Laird
Drums – Billy Cobham
Guitar – John McLaughlin
Piano – Jan Hammer
Violin – Jerry Goodman


The early show performance begins with the opening track of their debut album, Meeting Of The Spirits. Rather than easing into this piece, the initial intro sequence is explosive, extended and pummeling in its ferocity. While initially more faithful to the original album arrangement than many performances during this era, it reaches far past the studio recording. This intense, high energy opener segues directly into "Open Country Joy." After the initial onslaught, this strutting, gradually intensifying urban blues is the least complex, most easily accessible music the classic Mahavishnu Orchestra lineup ever played. Vacillating between a laidback country feel and frenzied rocking power, its disarming rustic theme provides contrast to what preceded it. McLaughlin and Hammer's instrumental flights are tightly woven here, joyously dancing around each other and displaying their breathtaking improvisational abilities. This opening sequence clocks in at nearly 27 minutes!

As remarkable as this opening sequence is, it is a mere warm-up exercise to the devastating "Noonward Race" which follows. This is an absolute guitar shredfest, with McLaughlin playing with such passion, dexterity, volume, and sheer speed that he makes most rock guitarists appear to be asleep in comparison. Charged violin lines from Goodman, tasteful keyboard embellishments from Hammer and furious drumming from Cobham takes this piece blazing into the stratosphere. This is the Mahavishnu Orchestra at full throttle and playing at warp speed!

This leads up to a simply staggering performance of "One Word." Beginning with a haunting and frightening sequence that gives way to a relatively straightforward jam, McLaughlin adds delicious wah-wah guitar, while the bandmembers trade a seemingly endless barrage of solos. Billy Cobham gets a showcase in the middle, beginning smoothly and continuously escalating in both speed and dynamics, preparing one for the explosive second half of the piece. When the group launches back in, playing in 13/8 time, continually increasing in speed, McLaughlin, Goodman and Hammer all blaze away in a manner that is nothing short of telepathic. Beneath all this, Laird and Cobham anchor things, while contributing to the overall searing effect. This spectacular performance brings the early show to a close.

When they return to the stage for an encore, they begin with "Hope." Although brief, this unfolds in an elegant, magisterial way, before Cobham suddenly blasts off into "Awakening." Although incomplete, this too has moments of frightening intensity and the telepathy between these musicians is functioning at an astounding level.



The late show performance begins with the title track of the second album, Birds Of Fire. This intense, high-energy number then segues into McLaughlin's tribute to the master himself, "Miles Beyond," a funky and more relaxed display. Both compositions are way beyond the length of the studio recordings and the group's breathtaking improvisational abilities are beginning to reach new heights here. Clocking in at nearly half an hour, this opening sequence clearly displays the band taking the improvisational approach to new extremes.

The "Dream" that follows allows the group to stretch out even more. A masterpiece of tension and release, "Dream" is equal parts lush and ferocious and features four distinct time signatures. It begins in a tranquil manner, with McLaughlin and Goodman establishing the initial theme. At approximately five minutes in, Cobham signals the rest of the musicians to join in. Rick Laird establishes a strong groove on bass, which is reinforced by Hammer, who then begins soloing. Goodman's violin states the theme again several minutes later, before a ferocious jam ensues, with the tempo increasing faster and faster. This becomes a head spinning display of creativity and technical virtuosity. Toward the end, McLaughlin takes a searing solo that develops into ferocious instrumental combat between he and Billy Cobham, before all reinstate the theme and bring the composition to a dramatic close.

The only composition repeated from the early show is next, as the band delivers another staggering performance of "One Word." Beginning with a haunting and frightening sequence that gives way to a relatively straightforward jam, McLaughlin adds delicious wah-wah guitar, while the band members trade a seemingly endless barrage of solos. Billy Cobham gets a showcase in the middle, beginning smoothly and continuously escalating in both speed and dynamics, preparing one for the explosive second half of the piece. When the group launches back in, playing in 13/8 time, continually increasing in speed, McLaughlin, Goodman, and Hammer all blaze away in a manner that is nothing short of telepathic. Beneath all this, Laird and Cobham anchor things, while contributing to the overall searing effect. As great as the early performance was, this is even more inspired.

After all the fury that occurred during the previous piece, "Sanctuary" provides some tranquility to the proceedings. Jan Hammer's introspective synthesizer solo weeps while Goodman's wailing violin compliments McLaughlin's guitar. This segues into a lengthy heavily improvised version of "The Dance Of Maya." There are many moments of brilliance here, but what stands out overall is that the group is having a joyous experience performing this composition. Following the initial theme, the rhythm section drops out completely leaving the remaining trio. The interaction between Goodman's pizzicato violin, McLaughlin guitar and Hammer's electric piano is full of a humor and playfulness that is absolutely delightful. Cobham and Laird eventually join back in and after a few surprising stop/starts to jolt the audience, they launch into a cosmic jam with Jerry Goodman as the primary pilot. Eventually, McLaughlin rips into a pulverizing solo with Billy Cobham in tow. The unison playing here is thrilling. Despite McLaughlin's blazing speed and unpredictability, Cobham never misses a beat—another mind-blowing display of musical telepathy. This eventually becomes a delicate call and response with Hammer adding his gurgling mini-moog embellishments, before all converge and reinstate the song's themes before bringing it to a close.

To fully pummel the audience into submission, they close the night with a ferocious encore of "Vital Transformation." In 9/8 time, this contains some of the most furious playing that the band would ever achieve. Charismatic, powerful and blazing with energy, this blends all the elements that comprised the bands music; jazz, rock, funk and R&B condensed into six minutes of pure power.

Mahavishnu Orchestra - 1973 - New York Meeting

Mahavishnu Orchestra
1973
New York Meeting



March 16, 1973
Felt Forum
New York City, NY

101. Meeting Of The Spirits / Open Country Joy
102. Dream
103. Miles Beyond

201. One Word
202. Dance Of Maya

Bass – Rick Laird
Drums – Billy Cobham
Guitar – John McLaughlin
Piano – Jan Hammer
Violin – Jerry Goodman


One can immediately tell this performance is going to be special. Rather than easing into  the opening track of their debut album, "Meeting Of The Spirits." The initial intro sequence is explosive, extended and pummeling in its ferocity. While initially more faithful to the original album arrangement than many performances during this era, it is seething with an intensity that far surpasses the studio recording and eventually reaches nearly three times the length. This intense, high energy opener segues directly into "Open Country Joy." After the initial onslaught, this strutting, gradually intensifying urban blues is the least complex, most easily accessible music the classic Mahavishnu Orchestra lineup ever played. Vacillating between a laidback country feel and frenzied rocking power, its disarming rustic theme provides contrast to what preceded it. McLaughlin and Hammer's instrumental flights are tightly woven here, joyously dancing around each other and displaying their breathtaking improvisational abilities. This opening sequence clocks in at a solid 25 minutes.

Just shy of half an hour and at the time still unrecorded and unfamiliar to audiences, the "Dream" that follows is even more staggering. This is one of the group's finest explorations, featuring extensive unison playing and one of the most fascinating guitar and drum duels ever. A masterpiece of tension and release, "Dream" is equal parts lush and ferocious and features four distinct time signatures. It begins in a tranquil manner, with McLaughlin and Goodman establishing the initial theme. Shortly after the seven-minute mark, Cobham signals the rest of the musicians to join in. Rick Laird establishes a strong groove on bass, which is reinforced by Hammer. A blazing speed jam ensues. A little over four minutes into this, Hammer takes an astonishing electric piano solo before the band teases the audience with demented bluesy stop/starts that seem to be challenging each other's ability to concentrate. Another ferocious jam ensues, with the tempo increasing faster and faster. This becomes a head-spinning display of creativity and technical virtuosity. McLaughlin takes a searing solo that develops into ferocious instrumental combat between he and Billy Cobham. Rick Laird keeps it anchored, but Hammer and Goodman drop out for awhile, allowing McLaughlin and Cobham to explore their telepathic and seemingly superhuman abilities. Hammer's minimoog stylings eventually ooze back into the fray, introducing a playful element amidst all the technical virtuosity. One may realize during this latter sequence that one of Hammer's greatest strengths is his sensibilities. Although certainly capable of technical virtuosity himself, here he introduces an uncomplicated playful element, full of personality, which helps balance the technical onslaught. Eventually, they reinstate the theme and bring "Dream" to a dramatic close 26 minutes after it began. This is a true tour-de-force performance that encapsulates all the elements of this monstrously talented band.

Next up is McLaughlin's tribute to Miles Davis, "Miles Beyond," with the group again displaying breathtaking abilities, but with a more relaxed and funk buoyancy. Dominated by Hammer, who remains in a particularly playful and creative mood here, he offers a barrage of demented sounds from his keyboards. Jerry Goodman also propels the basic groove, with McLaughlin, Laird and Cobham providing rhythmic punctuations and accents. Following a barrage of drums from Cobham, McLaughlin takes over for a scorching guitar solo that must have left listeners astounded. This all leads up to the tour-de-force performance of the evening, "One Word." Beginning with a haunting and frightening sequence that gives way to a relatively straightforward jam, McLaughlin adds delicious wah-wah guitar, while the bandmembers trade a seemingly endless barrage of solos. Billy Cobham gets a showcase in the middle, beginning smoothly and continuously escalating in both speed and dynamics, preparing one for the explosive second half of the piece. When the group launches back in, playing in 13/8 time, continually increasing in speed, McLaughlin, Goodman and Hammer all blaze away in a manner that is nothing short of telepathic. Beneath all this, Laird and Cobham anchor things, while contributing to the overall searing effect. This spectacular performance brings the set to a close.

Although not captured on the tape, eyewitness accounts have none other than singer-songwriter James Taylor entering the stage prior to the group's encore, presenting Jerry Goodman with a birthday cake. The encore presentation of "Dance Of Maya" that follows also receives a highly improvised treatment. Once the initial sequence has been established, the band suddenly shifts focus, with Cobham playing a bluesy 10/8 drum pattern, his polyrhythmic patterns complimenting the melodic line. Many subtle changes occur during the improvisations to follow and this track is certainly one of the most intriguing and accessible pieces for newcomers to the band. Sixteen minutes later, this astonishing Mahavishnu Orchestra performance comes to an end. This concert is certainly one of the finest existing examples of the middle phase of the original lineup at the pinnacle of their powers. Although every concert from this era of the group is astonishing to some degree, this particular performance is simply seething with energy and absolutely glorious.

Mahavishnu Orchestra - 1973 - Intricate And Complex

Mahavishnu Orchestra
1973
Intricate And Complex



January 24, 1973
Grand Theatre Du Quebec
Quebec City, Canada

01. Meeting Of The Spirits
02. You Know, You Know
03. Vital Transformation
04. The Dance Of Maya
05. A Lotus On Irish Streams
06. One Word
07. Resolution
08. Hope / Awakening


February 16, 1973
Kenyon College
Gambier, OH

01. Birds On Fire
02. Open Country Joy
03. Hope
04. Awakening
05. Miles Beyond
06. One Word
07. Resolution
08. Sanctuary
09. The Dance Of Maya
10. Celestial Terrestrial Commuters


Bass – Rick Laird
Drums – Billy Cobham
Guitar – John McLaughlin
Piano – Jan Hammer
Violin – Jerry Goodman


The recording of the January 24, 1973 show in Quebec begins (Show already in progress), with an incendiary reading of the opening track of their debut album, Meeting Of The Spirits; explosive, extended and pummeling in its ferocity. While initially more faithful to the original album arrangement than many performances during this era, it is seething with an intensity that far surpasses the studio recording. This intense, high energy opener segues directly into the infectious groove of "You Know You Know," dominated by an R&B influenced bass line and containing tasteful arpeggios and unusual accent placements. The rhythm section of Laird and Cobham are showcased here and show they are equally effective at subtlety as they are at intensity.

"Vital Transformation" ups the intensity level significantly. In 9/8 time, this composition contains some of the funkiest playing that the band would ever achieve. Charismatic, powerful, and blazing with energy, this is a tour-de-force blend of all the elements that comprised the bands music. The virtuosity of the musicians and the tasteful applications create a sound that was truly progressive in every positive sense. These first three compositions are way beyond the length of the studio recordings and the group's breathtaking improvisational abilities are beginning to reach new heights here. Clocking in at well over half an hour, this opening sequence clearly displays the band taking the improvisational approach to new extremes.

One of the bands most popular first album tracks, "The Dance Of Maya," follows and it too gets a highly expanded treatment. This piece features an infectious rhythmic pattern that compliments the melodic line. Once the initial sequence has been established, the band suddenly shifts the instrumental focus, with Cobham playing a bluesy 10/8 drum pattern. Many subtle changes occur during the extended exploration to follow, and despite its imposing nearly 18-minute length here, this is certainly one of the most intriguing and accessible pieces for newcomers to the band.

Switching to acoustic guitar, "A Lotus On Irish Streams" presents McLaughlin, Goodman, and Hammer in a contemplative mode, with a gentle serenading atmosphere. Hammer's acoustic piano propels the track, but it's the occasional speed soloing from McLaughlin and especially the poignant violin contributions of Jerry Goodman that provide the flavor and spiritual atmosphere. The tender melody and superb musicianship serve as a calming prelude to the staggering intensity of "One Word," which follows and begins the presentation of material from the new album. Beginning with a haunting and frightening sequence that gives way to a relatively straightforward jam, McLaughlin, Goodman, and Hammer trade a seemingly endless barrage of solos. Billy Cobham gets a showcase in the middle, beginning smoothly and continuously escalating in both speed and dynamics, preparing one for the explosive second half of the piece. When the group launches back in, playing in 13/8 time, continually increasing in speed, McLaughlin, Goodman, and Hammer all blaze away in a manner that is nothing short of telepathic. Beneath all this, Laird and Cobham anchor things, while contributing to the overall searing effect. Soon to be dropped from the repertoire, "One Word" is followed by "Resolution," a relatively short composition to end this remarkable performance, which gradually increases in tempo, as the musicians ascend toward the heavens, driven by Laird's anchoring bass and McLaughlin's signature minor chords.

The group returns for an encore, beginning with "Hope, a piece similar in structure to "Resolution." Like the former composition, this unfolds in an elegant, magisterial way, before Cobham suddenly blasts off into "Awakening." Although incomplete, this too has moments of frightening intensity and the telepathy between these musicians is functioning at an astounding level.

The earliest existing 1973 recording of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this serves to present the band at a critical turning point, just as the Birds Of Fire album was released. The band was consciously expanding the boundaries of their earlier material, finding vast new areas to explore with nearly every performance.

The Gambier, Ohio performance begins with a pairing of the new album's title track with "Open Country Joy." While both remain aligned with the arrangements on the Birds Of Fire, album, they both also contain extended solos, often explosive and pummeling in their ferocity. In the unusual time signature of 18/8, the interwoven nature of Birds Of Fire makes for a thrilling and intense experience, although one unlike anything most jazz or rock fans had experienced before. "Open Country Joy," a strutting, gradually intensifying urban blues is perhaps the least complex, most easily accessible music the classic lineup ever played, vacillating between a laidback county feel and frenzied rocking power. "Hope" is executed nearly identical to the studio recording, but more penetrating, as it unfolds in an elegant, magisterial way, before Cobham suddenly blasts off into "Awakening." Hammer takes one of his most impressive solo of the evening here, simultaneously playing bluesy Fender Rhodes with gurgling mini-moog embellishments. It eventually becomes a duel between McLaughlin and Cobham and this is unison playing at its most astounding. McLaughlin doesn't let up for a second, interjecting an endless barrage of ideas, while Cobham often does more with a hi-hat and snare drum than most drummers are capable of with an entire kit.

Next up is McLaughlin's tribute to Miles Davis, "Miles Beyond," with the group again displaying breathtaking improvisational abilities within a funkier context. The centerpiece of the set is "One Word." While not quite as expansive as later versions, this is nonetheless a staggering performance. Beginning with a haunting and frightening sequence that gives way to a relatively straightforward jam, McLaughlin, Goodman and Hammer trade a seemingly endless barrage of solos. Billy Cobham gets a showcase in the middle, beginning smoothly and continuously escalating in both speed and dynamics, preparing one for the explosive second half of the piece. When the group launches back in, playing in 13/8 time, continually increasing in speed, McLaughlin, Goodman and Hammer all blaze away in a manner that is nothing short of telepathic. Beneath all this, Laird and Cobham anchor things, while contributing to the overall searing effect. "One Word" is followed by "Resolution," a relatively short composition to end this remarkable performance, which gradually increases in tempo, as the musicians ascend toward the heavens, driven by Laird's anchoring bass and McLaughlin's signature minor chords.

The "Sanctuary" that begins this final sequence is a tranquil contemplative piece that sticks relatively close to the studio arrangement. Jan Hammer's introspective synthesizer solo weeps while Goodman's wailing violin compliments McLaughlin's guitar.

One of the band's most popular first album tracks, "The Dance Of Maya," follows and it too gets a highly expanded treatment. This piece features an infectious rhythmic pattern that compliments the melodic line. Once the initial sequence has been established, the band suddenly shifts the instrumental focus, with Cobham playing a bluesy 10/8 drum pattern. Many subtle changes occur during the extended exploration to follow and despite its imposing nearly 18 minute length here, this is certainly one of the most intriguing and accessible pieces for newcomers to the band. The performance concludes with an explosive "Celestial Terestrial Commuters." This features expressive soloing from Hammer and blazing call and response sequences between Goodman and McLaughlin. Although relatively short compared to the highly improvisational material featured earlier in the set, this is another thrilling hyperdrive performance. The improvisational abilities of the group were at the most astonishing level during this latter part of 1973. All of this music burns with an intensity few groups have ever matched in live performance. The Mahavishnu Orchestra's tempestuous mix of jazz, rock, and Eastern influences is at its peak here. This is a vivid example of the band taking improvisation to the extreme. All of the musicians are clearly challenging themselves to push the envelope here, with constantly surprising and utterly compelling results.