Tribute albums are a risky undertaking. You need to be respectful without being too imitative. You need to demonstrate the impact of the artist(s) while at the same time showing how things have moved forward. In a nutshell, you need to be relevant and reverent without coming off as simply a poor carbon copy.
Paying respect to John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra presents an even greater challenge than most. For one thing, drummer Gregg Bendian's fine Mahavishnu Project has already delivered some serious homage, most recently on the live release Phase 2 and at the Vishnu-Fest in New York. But even more importantly, any attempt to revere the Mahavishnu Orchestrawhose debut album, '71's The Inner Mounting Flame, has literally been a life-altering experience for more than one generation of guitarists and other fansruns the significant risk of being unable to meet listener expectations.
Fortunately guitarist/producer Jeff Richman, responsible for last year's John Coltrane tribute, A Guitar Supreme, understands that one needs to capture the spirit and unbridled energy of Mahavishnu Orchestra while at the same time treating the material with enough invention to tell new and different stories. In doing so he demonstrates the widespread impact that Mahavishnu represents, rather than simply delivering an album of well-executed covers.
Richman has assembled a core group in drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Kai Eckhardt, and keyboardist Mitchel Formanall of whom have all played with McLaughlin at one time or another, and consequently have a clear understanding of precedence. And recruiting original Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodmanwho seems to be making something of a comeback these days, most notably with British drummer Gary Husband's Force Majeurewas an incredibly inspired decision. Goodman is playing better than ever.
While rearranging the materialwhich, with two exceptions, comes from Mahavishnu Orchestra Mark I and II albums The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire, and Visions of the Emerald BeyondRichman has managed to maintain the raw edge and power of the originals that made them such watershed recordings. And his specific choices in matching up the nine other guitarists to the material are nothing short of perfect.
Citing any specific performance is pointless, as everyone demonstrates McLaughlin's monumental influence while successfully retaining their own well-developed musical personalities. If there's any criticism, it's that, despite McLaughlin's encyclopaedic knowledge, he always managed to sound somehow unschooled; and some of these playersin particular Steve Morse on Birds of Fire's "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters"come off as perhaps a little too clean, a little too perfect.
Still, while not truly a Mahavishnu Orchestra piece, John Abercrombie's set closer, an evocative version of the gentler "Follow Your Heart," demonstrates the overriding impression that all the participating guitarists leave. They may have all evolved their own stylistic conceptions, but the McLaughlin influence is still there to be found, if one only knows where to look. Vital and visceral, Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse correctly views Mahavishnu Orchestra and McLaughlin's material as unpolished but unequivocally invaluable jewels.
Birds of Fire; Can't Stand Your Funk; Celestial Terrestrial Commuters; Meeting of the
Spirits; Jazz; Dawn; Lila's Dance; Faith; Dance of the Maya; Follow Your Heart.
Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Kai Eckhardt: bass; Mitchel Forman: keyboards; Jeff Richman:
guitars. Featuring violinist Jerry Goodman (2,6,7,9) and guitarists Steve Lukather (1);
Mike Stern (2); Steve Morse (3); Jimmy Herring (4); Jeff Richman (5); Frank Gambale (6);
Warren Haynes (7); David Fiuczynski (8); Greg Howe (9); John Abercrombie (10).