Thursday, December 13, 2007
In the wake of Miles Davis’ jazz-rock explorations, fusion bands such as Weather Report and Return to Forever were born. Less easily accessible was the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Led by guitarist John McLaughlin, himself a Miles alum, Mahavishnu fashioned jazz improvisations within progressive-rock rhythmic structures.
Captured live in two very different concerts, the accessibility factor makes this release perfect only for those who seek a complete collection of the guitarist’s work. McLaughlin’s ability to build small melodic units into powerfully multi-layered and ingeniously designed solos is unrivaled and fully on display in both concerts. The difficulty lies in how long he takes to develop those ideas and how cerebral the final result is.
The 1974 concert features the extended 11-member unit. McLaughlin and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s long solos are accompanied by rapt percussion work from a young “Narada” Michael Walden. The 1984 group, just five members, is more up-tempo and groove oriented. Underrated saxophonist Bill Evans brings his own unique pyrotechnics to this band and drummer Danny Gottlieb’s dynamic offbeat accents push McLaughlin into some of his best solos. Together these two DVDs document a vastly original band, but casual listeners should be wary.