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The Mahavishnu Orchestra: Birds of Fire (CD, 40:24); CK 66081, 1973, 2000 First off, I shall quote my earliest, "first impressions", upon receiving this remastered re- release, as a special pre-release demo copy, "WOW!, WOW! and WOW! Superb redo of this classic! This sounds as good as I had hoped it would. Grab it as soon as it is ready for release. Levels are way up, great separation of each instrument, no more muddy mix in the "squashed mid-range glut". This sucker kicks! Mean rich, full bass, up-front drums, violin presence good, keys great, and guitar tracks perfectly awesome!! I was absolutely enthralled to hear Cobham so "right" and "immediately huge" on "One Word". My head popped during the fiery unison outro! Get yer money ready fusionheads -- this be a goody!!" And have I changed my mind after several months more of listening to an actual official release version? Of course not. This album's original LP release forever changed me - my listening tastes?, my guitar playing?, my views on jazz?, my rock-n-roll addiction? - oh baby, much more than those mere mortal items, Birds of Fire made me view life in a new way. Why? How? It's a simple answer really. John McLaughlin's music went beyond mere music, beyond jazz, beyond rock - it housed a soul, it reached into spirit and the visions within all became new. Sure enough, McLaughlin knew jazz, rock, Eastern Indian music, and melded it all into a powerhouse of jams that blew most everyone away in the jazz and rock worlds. But The Mahavishnu Orchestra forged more than music - they delivered a religious experience. Things McLaughlin needed to say, were expressed through sound, words were spoken beyond hearing, echoes of a vital transformation filled each composition. Birds of Fire was one of my first experiences in hearing the "fire of the soul" coming through the medium of music. Of course I heard it in other music, here and there, in brief swooning movements but this album was non-stop explosions of energies that came from deep within all that the soul of man could experience. I heard bliss, frustration, anger, anticipation, elation, fury, ecstasy, euphoria, sorrow, joy, power, imagination, dreams, hope, stress, release, passion, and so much more. It's all there - and if you cannot feel it when you listen - you have missed the rawest power of The Mahavishnu Orchestra and you're therefore yet to really "feel the tingle" up your spine, the strange rush of winds down the "halls of your soul". Now back down to earth, back from my epiphany . . . In comparing the old BOF CD to new CD the volume levels are up a "+3" on my Denon 3-Head's dB monitor level read-outs, noise is down a great deal, overall tones are warm, highs crisp, low-end okay and yeah, you get a ton of CD liner notes and pix, (heavy card stock vs. glossy 'zine feel). Need I say more? Not really. So, just go grab this new gig and give away or sell your old copy. Fusion at its very best happens at its best right here. ~ John W. Patterson Personnel: John McLaughlin - All guitars Jerry Goodman - Violin Jan Hammer - Keys Rick Laird - Bass Billy Cobham - Drums Tracks: Birds of Fire Miles Beyond Celestial Terrestrial Commuters Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love Thousand Island Park Hope One Word Sanctuary Open Country Joy Resolution
Mahavishnu John melts the frets!!
TWO REVIEWS IN ONE!!
. . . and . . .
John McLaughlin, Remember Shakti: The Believer and The Heart of Things: Live In Paris (77:13 and 77:39) Verve 314 549 044-2 and 314 543 536-2, 2000 Fusion guitar god John McLaughlin continues to blaze on these two exciting live releases. Remember Shakti: The Believer documents the 1999 European tour of his reconstituted Indian group, Shakti. The Heart of Things: Live In Paris captures highlights from two November 1998 shows by his high-powered fusion band. McLaughlin's various reinventions may have produced mix results through the decades, but the music on both these records is quite brilliant.
Fans of the old Shakti will thoroughly enjoy The Believer. There are some differences, however: McLaughlin plays a Gibson 335 rather than an acoustic guitar, for one thing. Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain remains in the group, and is joined by V. Selvaganesh on Indian percussion. The most notable addition is mandolinist U. Shrinivas, whose high-velocity style mirrors McLaughlin's. Together, McLaughlin and Shrinivas lock in with dizzying unison lines, deftly harmonized passages, and furious solo trading. The grooves are hypnotic, the improvisations generally rather long. At times it seems all a blur, but the rhythmic ingenuity is often startling.
Shakti, it should be noted, puts "world music" in a whole different perspective. Combining elements of the Hindustani and Karnataka Indian traditions, the group also touches upon jazz and blues in the subtlest ways. The haunting minor-key ballad "Lotus Funk," in addition, is something one would never expect to hear from a group with Indian instrumentation.
On The Heart of Things: Live In Paris, McLaughlin is joined by most of the players from his 1997 studio effort, also titled The Heart of Things. This music somewhat resembles the various Mahavishnu Orchestra incarnations, but it has a more generic quality about it. To put it differently, you could imagine other powerhouse fusion bands sounding something like this. That said, the musicianship is incredible and the tunes are a blast. Bassist Matthew Garrison and drummer Dennis Chambers make up the killer rhythm section. Otmaro Ruiz is on keyboards; his trading with McLaughlin on the double-time section of "Mother Tongues" strongly recalls the old days with Jan Hammer. Victor Williams handles percussion, and the remarkable Gary Thomas plays tenor and soprano saxes.
(Thomas played flute exclusively during vibraphonist Stefon Harris's November 2000 run at the Village Vanguard in New York. During one set, Harris said he was glad Thomas restricted himself to flute, because "if he picked up that tenor, no one else would want to play." Thomas's tenor work on this album makes Harris's meaning amply clear.)
The highlights abound: Garrison's solo on the slow section of "Mother Tongues," Chambers's spotlight on the Tony Williams tribute "Tony," Thomas's volcanic tenor foray on "The Divide." One of the most striking features of this CD is the relatively toned-down presence of McLaughlin himself. In no way is this a guitar hero record. Solo room is shared generously, compositions develop and go somewhere, and the group pays attention to dynamics. The music is almost entirely wank-free, so when the wank does surface, you actually enjoy it.
Two CDs, each with only six tracks, both running just over 77 minutes. That's a lot of music, and all of it well worth hearing. ~David R. Adler
Mahavishnu Orchestra, : The Lost Trident Sessions (CD, 39:49); Columbia/Legacy CK 65959, 1999 Columbia Records 550 Madison Avenue New York, NY, 10022-3211 USA Cyberhome: http://www.legacyrecordings.com I need not go into the extended history of how the original tapes were misplaced, forgotten, and now unearthed for this long overdue CD release. What seemed to happen was simply a busy band with internal struggles made a session tape and opted to release a live version instead. Some songs never made it to that live release. Now we have more songs, better sound quality, and a glimpse into a band's past -- nearly 26 years after the fact. I must forewarn readers that I am a devoted jazz rock fusion fan and an avid proponent for a rebirth and revitalization of the genre. The Mahavishnu Orchestra's music is 98% responsible for my adoration of such a maligned and misunderstood sub-genre of music. Hearing John McLaughlin's guitar volcanics and his leading others in his band to heights of unparalleled improvisation forever changed how I approached my own guitar playing and just plain rewired my neural net beyond recovery. Herein follows some bias. Between Nothingness & Eternity had its many wondeful moments but I always felt the live recording left much to be desired in many places throughout the concert. Quiet moments were lost in noise and crowd buzz. Loud attacks and dynamic changeups in the band's supersonic delivery seemed oversaturated and of course instrument separation was deplorably nigh unto music mush. Only at certain times when the sound/recording engineer(s) seemed to know what was going on and get the dials and knobs right did things seem acceptable. Only one magical moment is superior on BN&E's live recording. And that is John McLaughlin's super-nova, lead break on Hammer's "Sister Andrea". Lost Trident Sessions' version of this song has a much, much better synth solo by Hammer even though McLaughlin's LTS lead is less appealing. Overall, I find LTS far superior to BN&E. As a bonus on this release is bassist Rick Laird's eerie "Stepping Tones" progression and violinist Jerry Goodman's mournful "I Wonder". McLaughlin seems to obligingly riff, patiently pentatonic on "I Wonder", and does almost invisible backing guitar structures on "Stepping Tones" whereas when these two songs made it to the Nemperor label's Like Children release featuring Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman, Goodman subsequently handled all guitars too and pulled off nearly an exact copy of all McLaughlin's lackluster LTS guitar efforts. It is seems evident his heart wasn't into Laird or Goodman's pieces or perhaps he had been "written out" of the songs' limelight moments. I can't say for sure. Lastly we gain a listen to the never-heard-before, 5:53 "John's Song". It is a sombre, ominously mutating, fusion excursion. Wandering initially in a free form fusion intro, it builds into a jazz rockin explosion of Billy Cobham's drums, Hammer's synth textures and manic unison leads with McLaughlin blasting the outskirts of infinity. To top off the climax of this song Jerry Goodman erupts in some of the finer fusion fiddling I have ever heard. It reminded of a mini-version of "One Word" from Birds of Fire. Great cut! If this song and the rest of The Lost Trident Sessions indicates where The Mahavishnu Orchestra was possibly heading in their long-past future musical growth -- then indeed it is a tragic thing that the individual band members could no longer function together as friends or associates. Who can say what other majesties they held in store? All such things now passed -- we can but all the more deeply cherish this rare glimpse into the final days of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cool liner notes and pictures included, this release is strongly recommended. Throw out that "bootleg" tape! ~ John W. Patterson.
Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Lost Trident Sessions (39:47); CK 65959, 1999 Columbia Legacy 550 Madison Avenue, #1775 New York, NY 10022-3211 Phone: 212-833-4448 E-mail: LegacyMediaRelations@sonymusic.com Cyberhome: www.legacyrecordings.com Two words stick in my mind after listening to this album, and those words are Billy Cobham. I've always felt that Cobham's drums and John McLaughlin's guitar were the Mahavishnu Orchestra's most exciting and essential elements. Here Cobham leaves everyone, including McLaughlin, in the dust. If for no other reason, this long-lost record deserved to be dug out of the vault in order to highlight some of Cobham's best playing ever. McLaughlin's no slouch, of course. He's fully cranked up, veering deeply into rock god territory, and holding his own considering the competition in that department back in 1973 - Jimmy Page, Richie Blackmore, and David Gilmour come to mind. The Lost Trident Sessions is the much-heralded studio album that never was - the follow-up to 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame and 1972's Birds of Fire. The group shelved the Trident tapes, opting instead to release a live album called Between Nothingness and Eternity (BNE), which contained some of the same tunes. But neither the live album nor this newly discovered session hold a candle to those first two studio classics. Sure, the playing is burning, but compositionally you can hear the band beginning to run out of ideas. "Dream" kicks off the Trident sessions. The live version filled an entire album side and clocked in at over twenty-six minutes. This version is pared down to eleven minutes and gains some focus as a result. McLaughlin's acoustic work toward the beginning comes across with far greater clarity than it did live. Next is "Trilogy," the three-part suite that opened BNE. Parts one and two, respectively titled "The Sunlit Path" and "La Mere de la Mer," are contrasting studies in 7/8 time. The latter is my favorite, with its ambiguous harmonic center and portentous fade-in and fade-out. Part three, "Tomorrow's Story Not the Same," is a flat-out rocker based on two bars of four followed by a bar of six. Cobham rips it up. Keyboardist Jan Hammer's "Sister Andrea" is the last of the three tunes that also appeared on BNE. There it began as a laid-back funk groove with a half-time feel. Here Cobham doubles the time to give the theme more forward motion; it almost sounds like something from a 70s sitcom. The final three tracks did not appear on BNE and were never heard by the public prior to this release. They are violinist Jerry Goodman's "I Wonder," bassist Rick Laird's "Steppings Tones," and McLaughlin's "John's Song #2." Goodman's tune is affected and Pink Floydish. Laird's is a bit more interesting, but it rehashes some of the rhythmic and harmonic ideas heard on Birds of Fire. "John's Song #2" is the best of the three, with its mindboggling unison lines and restless groove, and a strong violin solo by Goodman. All in all, if you have the first two Mahavishnu records, and if you have BNE but don't love it, you might want to skip The Lost Trident Sessions. If you're a hardcore McLaughlin fan, you've already bought it and probably don't agree. ~David R. Adler, 1/6/00
AND YET ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE:offered to me by a jazz journalist associate, as a "gift" to E.E.R.
Jazz Review By Gene Hyde
The Mahavishnu Orchestra
The Lost Trident Sessions Columbia/Legacy Soon after Miles Davis recorded Bitches Brew in 1969, various Miles Davis band alumni began to spread the gospel of fusion throughout the jazz and rock communities. Davis's disciples approached the emerging genre in different ways: saxophonist Wayne Shorter united with keyboardist Joe Zawinul to create the world/jazz/rock amalgamation known as Weather Report, while pianist Herbie Hancock carried Miles Davis' intense electronic energy into his Mwandishi band, then abandoned that for the Headhunters, a light pop/funk hitmaking machine. Meanwhile, British guitarist John McLaughlin went in a different direction. After a brief spell with drummer Tony Williams in Lifetime, McLaughlin embraced Hinduism and adopted the name Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. Seeking to incorporate his own visionary image of fusion, he formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Beginning with 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame, the Mahavishnu Orchestra cut a wide creative path through contemporary music. Melding McLaughlin's machine-gun guitar work with Jan Hammer's splashy electronic keyboards, Jerry Goodman's folk-inspired violin, and Rick Laird's daunting bass lines, the entire ensemble cooked over the fires of polyrhythmic drum genius Billy Cobham. This was a brilliant band of great complexity and depth who created some of the most original music of the era, music that blended blistering fast licks and gentle melodies, pastoral images and celestial firestorms. They were amazingly intense, yet always fluid and graceful. They were also hugely successful, attracting both jazz fans (those who weren't alienated by the whole electric fusion movement, that is) and rock fans as well. Their second album, 1973's Birds Of Fire, was a breathtaking masterpiece: serene and beautiful, yet even more intense and focused than their first album. Like their first LP, all compositions were written by guitarist McLaughlin. The guitarist's creative control was the cause of some tension within the band, as Hammer, Goodman, and Laird were not only helping to shape the songs, they were also composers in their own right. By the time the band entered Trident studios in June 1973 to record their third album, the band was close to breaking up. They recorded an entire LP, but argued over final details of the record: should strings be added, or should it be remixed again? Unable to resolve these issues, the band opted to release Between Nothingness and Eternity, a live album recorded in August, 1973. By the end of 1973 this version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra had broken up, and their final studio sat in Columbia's vaults. Soon McLaughlin reformed another version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Cobham, Laird, Goodman, and Hammer went off on solo careers. Although bootlegs of these recordings surfaced off and on for years, The Lost Trident Sessions is the first official recording of Mahavishnu's final studio effort, finally unearthed and remastered after lying neglected in a tape vault for 26 years. Former band members have blessed the release, willing to overlook the creative differences that precluded its release a quarter-century before. As might be expected, the intensity and fierce attack of McLaughlin and Cobham (especially) is without peer on these sessions: their furious duet in the middle of"Dream" is unrelenting. "Trilogy" is a beautiful, expansive piece, building upon an ensemble riff and some quiet guitar by McLaughlin, as the band trades solos and the tune builds in intensity. Three of these songs ("Dream," "Trilogy," and "Sister Andrea") appeared on Between Nothingness and Eternity. After years of listening to the live versions, it's interesting to hear the original studio takes, which seem a bit more tame and controlled than their live counterparts. The live version of "Dream," for instance, lets the band stretch out for a hefty 21 minutes, a full ten minutes longer than the studio version. In addition to "Dream" and "Trilogy," both McLaughlin compositions, the disc includes three tunes by other band members. Jan Hammer contributes the bluesy "Sister Andrea". Jerry Goodman's "I Wonder" and Rick Laird's "Steppings Tones" fail to match the creativity and passionate delivery of McLaughlin's compositions. Brief and repetitive, they are easily the weakest cuts on the album. The Lost Trident Sessions, while a welcome addition to Mahavishnu's slim catalog, is the weakest of their studio efforts. While still packing a powerful punch, it lacks the freshness of their first album, and doesn't match the dazzling intensity of Birds Of Fire. Still, it adds the final chapter to this extraordinary band, and should be required listening for any serious student of jazz fusion.
This review featured in:
The Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame (CD, 46:36); Columbia/Legacy CK 65523
Your first question is obvious. Is this 1998 remastered re-release worth grabbing to replace that other CD of this you already own? Yes.The difference is immediately obvious in this superior reissue. There is new warmth, clarity without that cold digital thinness, and an almost LP aura present. When checking recording output levels against my older CD track by track the difference was obvious. My old CD registered -7 compared to +4 for the re-release. Remixing brings out the drums noticeably. That washed-out, bland slurry of sound is gone! For once you hear the infinite mastery of each artist crisply, with good separation, and punch. Some source tape hiss still remains especially on "Dawn". No biggee. Consider the extensive liner notes and groovy historical photos included as a nice bonus. This has got to be one of, if not the most influential albums ever released. Jazz rock fusion successfully exploded onto the scene in 1971 with this singular vision of guitar legend John McLaughlin. Mclaughlin collected the arsenal of Jerry Goodman on violin, Jan Hammer on keys, Rick Laird on bass, and Billy Cobham on drums.The musicianship, the spirit, the conversational soloing, the unique compositions, the intensity, and the overall effect this release holds is far too superb for this reviewer to dare confine in mere words. Whether it's "The Dance of Maya" or "You Know, You Know", to this day you hear echoes of The Inner Mounting Flame. Consider this. I sat many of my other albums aside to forever collect dust when I discovered The Mahavishnu Orchestra and I remain a jazz rock fusionist to this day, 28 years later. ~ John W. Patterson
- The Heart of Things - Live in Paris (Verve) The s/t studio record from John McLaughlin's electric fusion band The Heart of Things was maligned by some McLaughlin fans as sterile and dry, lacking the spark found in his earlier electric work like Mahavishnu Orchestra. However, Live in Paris shows this band with considerable creativity and interaction as they reinterpret some of the studio record songs, and other material, on stage. The live lineup includes McLaughlin on guitar, Gary Thomas on sax, Dennis Chambers on drums, Matthew Garrison on bass, Otmaro Ruiz replacing Jim Beard on keyboards, and Victor Williams on percussion. The track selection cleverly showcases songs that were played live but aren't on The Heart of Things studio record, like "Mother Tongues," "Tony," and the Gary Thomas tune "The Divide." Live in Paris is over 77 minutes, so they couldn't have added anything more, but still a few omissions are noticeable. "Mr. D.C." was a powerhouse number live, but a version is on the studio record. Even though a studio version with Beard and Chambers is on McLaughlin's The Promise, the absence of "Jazz Jungle," a staple of the Heart of Things European set, is glaring. "Tony" is a moving and musically ideal tribute to Tony Williams, with the drum solo perfectly and appropriately executed by Chambers. "Seven Sisters" is well played but feels a bit truncated at under 9 minutes, and some sections sound underdeveloped. "Acid Jazz" is a great closer for the live set and the album, surging from a quiet opening to a raucous guitar and drum duet. Matthew Garrison's snappy yet supportive bass work is very impressive, perhaps highlighted by the strong low sound of the mix. Chambers as always is a master on the drums, from barely audible cymbal work to crushing beats, and William's percussion thankfully does not drown out Chambers' more subtle passages. Otmaro Ruiz's keyboard work is solid, but his minimalist solo in "The Divide" grows tiresome quickly. McLaughlin's playing shows supreme restraint and maturity as he gives center stage to the younger players and allows them ample room to showcase their talents. But when he does take the spotlight, he shows that the fire of his previous electric days remains. Live in Paris is an excellent, single CD excerpt of the Heart of Things live European set that captures almost all of the live magic of this band. This CD has not been released in the US yet, but it has in Canada and the UK and is available mail order through various Internet retailers. Review Copyright 2000 by Scott H. Andrews [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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