Between Nothingness and Eternity was released in 1973 and proved to be the swansong of the first edition of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. While the band had produced two truly great studio albums previously, BNE was intended to showcase its legendary live performance. Disappointingly, this recording does not fully capture that experience. Despite that failing, the album remains a powerhouse of a recording and is a fitting testament to the driving force that was the original Mahavishnu Orchestra.
BNE was recorded live in NYC’s Central Park in 1973. (The stage was set up in an outdoor hockey rink, and tickets for the event cost a whopping two dollars!) The members of the Orchestra were not getting along at this time. In fact, parts of the studio version of this album, along with new tunes from Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird, were already in the can. However, due to creative differences, the album was never finished. In 2000, some 26 years after the fact, Columbia finally released this incomplete album as The Lost Trident Sessions.
“Dream,” a long extended piece, is often cited as one of the best all-time Mahavishnu explorations. Extensive unison playing and a guitar-drum duel that very well may be the most exciting ever-put on record highlight this tune. McLaughlin and Billy Cobham may not have been getting along off stage, but they were damn telepathic on it. Over the course of 25 minutes, “Dream” sounds lush and ferocious. At several points during this performance, you will feel the hairs on the back of your neck stiffen. “Dream” is all about tension and release.
“Trilogy” emphasizes the amazing interplay of the band. Much of this interaction runs through Jan Hammer, who was featuring his Moog synthesizer. Conversely, this is also the main weakness of the album. The problem is not contained in Hammer’s performance. He was in top form. But for some reason, the recording does not capture his sound in an entirely pleasing way. One can only guess that the recording equipment or the sound equipment on stage was not up to the task. Simply put, there are passages in which Hammer can barely be heard! This is a very serious problem during the call and response sections. In fact, the overall sound quality of the album is not very good. We must remember that the Mahavishnu Orchestra played VERY LOUD and perhaps the technology at the time just couldn’t handle it. Some fans may actually enjoy the fact that the M.O. seemed to overpower it equipment; this is especially true of McLaughlin’s wailing and distorted guitar that over-modulates from time to time. It was as if no man made equipment could contain the energy produced by this band!
All in all, despite the obvious sound issues, BNE is a fine production. This album and The Lost Trident Sessions are a must-have in order to appreciate how the group fleshed out their compositions in concert.