Tuesday, May 27, 2008

DVD of the Day - "Mahavishnu Orchestra at Montreux"

DVD of the Day
Mahavishnu Orchestra: "Live at Montreux 1984/1974" (Eagle Vision/ST2) 2008
After many bootleg issues, at long last comes the official release of the two apperances by John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra in Montreux.
It's a 2-DVD set including a booklet with excellent liner notes by Kevin Le Gendre, pics from both concerts and reproductions of the original posters of the 1974 and 1984 Festivals.
Both concerts are superb, but the 1974 one is very special, despite the fact that we only have two long tunes on video: "Wings of Karma" and "Hymn to Him". The other four titles ("Power of Love", "Smile of the Beyond", "Vision Is A Naked Sword" and "Sanctuary") appear only as audio tracks, since the video tapes had seriously deteriorated.
It's impossible to describe the huge level of energy, passion, virtuosism and musicianship that abounds on the '74 concert. Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman, Billy Cobham and Rick Laird, the original line-up of the group, had disbanded. That second Mahavishnu incarnation featured Gayle Moran (Mrs. Chick Corea) on Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ and an array of analog synths; Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin, using the wah-wah pedal to provide unbelievable grooves to the other soloists when he is not in the spotlight; Narada Michael Walden playing on a two-bassdrum set; and the underrated Ralph Armstrong (whom would later join Ponty's band, taking part of the landmark "Aurora" album in 76). Five months after the July '74 concert, the Mahavishnu would return to NY to cut the "Visions of the Emerald Beyond" LP at Electric Lady Studios in December 1974.
The ultra-dynamic unit, which continued to develop McLaughlin's sound as the epitome of the jazz-rock aesthetic, was complemented on stage by a string quartet (dressed with hippie clothes, but clean ones...) and a horn section consisting of three reedman capable to play multiple instruments such as saxophones, flutes, trumpets and trombones. Among them, the forgotten Bob Knapp, who also played percussion and had previously replaced Flora Purim during one of the early Return to Forever tours in Europe. Some audio problems happened on stage, specially on Moran's keyboards, but it's not a real "problem" in the process of savoring that special performance.
A completely different approach dominates the 1984 concert. The master musician had just reformed Mahavishnu one year earlier and was in love with the Synclavier guitar. Leading Danny Gottlieb (drums), Jonas Hellborg (bass), Mitchell Forman (keyboard) and Bill Evans (tenor & soprano saxophones), McLaughlin continues to amaze the audience with a combination of technique and emotion that only the frustrated purists are unable to feel. The repertoire includes "Radio-Activity", "Nostalgia" and the frenetic "East Side, West Side" that, suddenly, transforms itself into a radiant reading of "Isn't She Lovely?" after McLaughlin had already quoted twice the Stevie Wonder song during his improvisation.
Ironically, the audio quality of the 1984 concert sounds not so good as in the 1974 tracks, maybe to the excess of compression in the mix done last year, in Monaco, by McLaughlin himself.
Anyway, one of the best DVD releases for 2008!

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