Billy Cobham - drums; Jerry Goodman - violin; Jan Hammer - keyboards; Rick Laird - bass; John McLaughlin - guitar
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.
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.