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 March 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. The second of two concerts performed at Boston's Orpheum Theatre, this is yet another stellar example of the band's blazing energy and fluid virtuosity.
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.