Billy Cobham - drums; Jerry Goodman - violin; Jan Hammer - keyboards; Rick Laird - bass; John McLaughlin - guitar
The musicians that recorded and performed with Miles Davis during his early explorations into electric instrumentation inevitably went on to form bands of their own. Few were as capable or as influential as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a globally diverse group formed by English jazz guitarist, John McLaughlin. Combining the improvisational elements of jazz with the volume and energy of rock music, this group also brought elements of Far Eastern, R&B, Blues and Classical music to the table. The Mahavishnu Orchestra created music that was often intricate and complex, performed by musicians whose virtuosity thrilled audiences and critics alike. The group had a firm grip on dynamics and were equally precise at dense, aggressive flights of feverish intensity as they were at creating moments of passionate spiritual contemplation. The initial classic lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra 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. Combining the improvisational elements of jazz with the volume and energy of rock music, the group created music that was often intricate and complex, performed by musicians whose virtuosity thrilled audiences, musicians and critics alike.
By 1973, the final year of the classic lineup, the Mahavishnu Orchestra had firmly established their reputation. They were now a world class headliner and arguably the most exciting band on the planet. This performance, recorded at Washington DC's Constitution Hall, occurred shortly after the release of their highly acclaimed second album, Birds Of Fire. Appropriately enough, the performance begins with that album's title track. While it remains aligned with the arrangement on the album, here the composition contains 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.
As an established headliner, the Mahavishnu Orchestra now had more time onstage, allowing them to extend their improvisational approach. All three of the compositions captured from this performance are fine examples of the band exploring in greater depth than ever before. The intense, high-energy opening number segues directly into McLaughlin's tribute to the master himself, "Miles Beyond," a funky and more relaxed display first featured on the band's debut album, The Inner Mounting Flame. Both compositions are far 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 further. Often nearly half an hour in length and at the time unrecorded, "Dream" had become one of the groups finest explorations, featuring extensive unison playing and some 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. Later in the year, McLaughlin would switch to acoustic guitar during the opening sequence, but here it is performed on electric. Eventually, 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. Hammer takes an astonishing electric piano solo before the band teases the audience with challenging stop/starts that seem to be testing 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. Unfortunately, only the first half of the composition was captured (which applies to the performance as well) before the tape stock ran out. Still, this remarkable opening sequence encapsulates all the elements of this monstrously talented band. (Bershaw)