How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Over thirty years ago, John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra shocked the jazz and rock music world with their highly volatile electric fusion explosions. Now this music is being reprised by The Mahavishnu Project, a tribute band which recently released a live album. Recorded on tour directly from the house soundboards, Live Bootleg offers a raw, vigorous, and heartfelt homage to the true supergroup of jazz-rock fusion.
The MP consists of superb players who are all well established on the jazz and fusion scenes: Gregg Bendian on drums, Pete McCann on guitar, Steve Hunt on keyboards, Stephan Crump on bass and Todd Reynolds on violin. (Rob Thomas has recently replaced Reynolds in the group.) Bendian leads the band through music from the first three pivotal Mahavishnu Orchestra Albums: The Inner Mounting Flame , Birds of Fire and Between Nothingness and Eternity.
This music is very difficult to play. Integral features of these amazing McLaughlin compositions include odd time signatures, frequent stops and starts, and incomprehensible speed mixed with touching slow movements. The tunes as performed by the MP have all the fresh thrills, excitement and pathos that they did in the very beginning. Those familiar with the music will especially appreciate MP's takes on "Trilogy" and "Birds of Fire." And those not yet familiar will want to hear more.
The sheer virtuosity of the original members of the MO (guitarist McLaughlin, drummer Billy Cobham, bassist Rick Laird, keyboard player Jan Hammer, and violinist Jerry Goodman) could very well have humbled any band which attempted to reinterpret their sound. In other words, it takes a brave bunch of musicians to tackle this stuff. This is especially so because the fans of the original MO, who will constitute a lot of the audience for this music, are a very discerning and demanding lot. But this is where the MP has made a very wise decision.
The Mahavishnu Project honors the music by highlighting the dramatic moments associated with the original pieces, while adding their own skilled improvisational partsrather than attempting to copy the music note for note. In fact, while the original band tended to highlight each player's skills by upping the sound in the mix as they soloed, the MP seems to have adopted a more integrated group sound approach. (This is either a brilliant idea, or it is just too difficult to find the right mix!) At any rate, this integration gives the band a modern sound that should appeal to the younger fans discovering this music for the very first time through the MP. While it appears that the band members find time to play this music only when their main gigs allow, I would imagine they would make quite a successful jam band on the college circuit, filling much the same niche as Medeski, Martin and Wood. In fact, a tour featuring those two bands could be quite a show. Tales of the sheer joy and energy of the MP playing this "new" 30 year-old music would spread like wildfire through the college communities. (After all, you cannot escape the influence that the original MO has had on recent jam bands, including Phish.)
In the liner notes, Bendian writes about his introduction to John McLaughlin and the MO, and his fascination with the tune "Sanctuary." Inexplicably, this tune is left off the album! Maybe it can be included next time on a recording which features some music from Visions of the Emerald Beyond , Apocalypse and even Inner Worlds.
Track Listing: The Dance of Maya; Celestial Terrestrial Commuters; Trilogy: Dawn/Open
Country Jam; Birds of Fire; Resolution/The Noonward Race; Dream: One
Personnel: Gregg Bendian: drums; Pete McCann: guitar; Steve Hunt: keyboards;
Todd Reynolds: violin; Stephan Crump: bass.