Billy Cobham - drums; Jerry Goodman - violin; Jan Hammer - keyboards; Rick Laird - bass; John McLaughlin - guitar
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 early 1973, the Mahavishnu Orchestra had firmly established their reputation and with little over a year of live performances behind them, they had become one of the most exciting bands on the planet. This partial February 1973 performance captures the group following the release of Birds of Fire and several months before they recorded the live album, Between Nothingness and Eternity. Recorded at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire, this is yet another stellar example of the band's blazing energy and fluid virtuosity. Now an established headliner, the Mahavishnu Orchestra had more time onstage and they seized that opportunity to explore in greater depth. This set captures the group as they were diversifying the onstage repertoire and extending their improvisational approach.
The performance begins with the pairing of the Inner Mounting Flame's leadoff track, "Meeting Of The Spirits," with "Open Country Joy" from Birds Of Fire. While both remain aligned with the album arrangements, here they feature extended solos, often explosive and pummeling in their ferocity. Open Country Joy," a strutting, gradually intensifying urban blues is perhaps the least complex composition the classic lineup ever played, vacillating between a laidback county feel and frenzied rocking power.
Although brief, "Hope" unfolds in an elegant, magisterial way, before Cobham suddenly blasts off into "Awakening." This too has moments of frightening intensity and the telepathy between these musicians is functioning at an astounding level. Hammer takes an impressive solo 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 astonishing. 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.
The recording concludes with McLaughlin's tribute to Miles Davis, "Miles Beyond," with the group again displaying breathtaking improvisational abilities within a funkier context. Dominated by Hammer, who offers a barrage of demented sounds from his keyboards, this also features Jerry Goodman propelling the basic groove with McLaughlin, Laird, and Cobham providing rhythmic punctuations and accents.
Every concert from this era of Mahavishnu Orchestra is astonishing to some degree and this is no exception, featuring the original lineup at the pinnacle of their powers.