Like Weather Report and Return to Forever in the early
1970’s, the Mahavishnu Orchestra founded by guitarist
John McLaughlin (1942 – ), was another example of a
Jazz/Rock/Fusion band, proliferating in the era after the
releases of “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew” albums
by Miles Davis. In fact, all three of the aforementioned
bands featured musicians who had worked with Davis.
Recently, I had the pleasure of watching the “Mahavishnu
Orchestra: Live at Montreux 1974 and 1984,” featuring
different incarnations of this group, with Mahavishnu
John McLaughlin as the sole consistent member.
Unfortunately, the personnel names were not listed in
the credits on the DVD. The electric violin of
Jean-Luc Ponty was a highlight of the 1974 lineup and as
well as I could discern, other members included
Carol Shive and Steve Kindler on violin, Marsha Westbrook
on viola, cellist Philip Hirschi, keyboard player Gayle Moran,
bassist Ralphe Armstrong, drummer Narada Michael Walden,
and trumpet/flügelhorn players, Steve Frankewicz and
Bob Knapp. In addition to McLaughlin, the 1984 concert
featured saxophonist/flutist Bill Evans, Mitchell Foreman
on keyboards, drummer Danny Gottlieb and
bassist Jonas Hellborg.
The 1984 concert was approximately one hour
and 51 minutes and the running time of the 1974 concert
was two hours and two minutes. However, four of the
extended 1974 songs with a running time of one hour and
10 minutes were audio only, and the 51-minute running
time listed on the DVD label just referred to the video
footage. It’s too bad that there wasn’t video footage
of the entire 1974 show, because some of the most
inspired playing was heard during the “audio only”
sections. Oh well!
Both of the sets reflected their respective eras.
At times, the 1974 set seemed like an outgrowth of
the “Bitches Brew” sessions. Some of the performances
were more effective than others. Personally, I could
have done without the four auxiliary string players,
as well as the trumpet/flügelhorn musicians. However,
I did like the prevailing spirit of adventure and sense of
spontaneity from these musicians who were
“playing without a net,” with the inherent risks involved.
I found the 1984 set more effective and cohesive.
Miles Davis alumnus, Bill Evans, was very impressive
on soprano and tenor saxophone. Jonas Hellborg was
also given time to shine, and Danny Gottlieb’s drum
solo featured his creative use of a vast array of cymbals.
Of course, McLaughlin was a technical wizard. Rarely if ever,
have I seen a guitarist play so accurately at such high speeds.
However, as much as I was impressed by the skills of the
musicians at these shows (particularly the 1984 concert),
I wasn’t moved emotionally.
Nevertheless, these performances were well recorded
with three different sound options, and good camera work.
Regardless of the lineup, both of the concerts revealed
the virtuosity of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.