Billy Cobham - drums; Jerry Goodman - violin; Jan Hammer - keyboards; Rick Laird - bass; John McLaughlin - guitar
The initial classic lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra lasted less than three years and only released two studio albums and one live recording during this era, but these recordings had a profound effect, redefining the jazz/rock fusion movement. Combining the improvisational elements of jazz with the volume and energy of rock music, the group created music that was often intricate and complex, performed by musicians whose virtuosity thrilled audiences, musicians, and critics alike.
By early 1973, the Mahavishnu Orchestra had firmly established their reputation and with little over a year of live performances behind them, they had become one of the most exciting bands on the planet. This March 1973 performance captures the group following the release of Birds Of Fire and several months before they recorded the live album, Between Nothingness And Eternity. The first of two concerts performed at Boston's Orpheum Theatre, this is yet another stellar example of the band's blazing energy and fluid virtuosity.
The early show performance begins with the opening track of their debut album, Meeting Of The Spirits. Rather than easing into this piece, the initial intro sequence is explosive, extended and pummeling in its ferocity. While initially more faithful to the original album arrangement than many performances during this era, it reaches far past the studio recording. This intense, high energy opener segues directly into "Open Country Joy." After the initial onslaught, this strutting, gradually intensifying urban blues is the least complex, most easily accessible music the classic Mahavishnu Orchestra lineup ever played. Vacillating between a laidback country feel and frenzied rocking power, its disarming rustic theme provides contrast to what preceded it. McLaughlin and Hammer's instrumental flights are tightly woven here, joyously dancing around each other and displaying their breathtaking improvisational abilities. This opening sequence clocks in at nearly 27 minutes!
As remarkable as this opening sequence is, it is a mere warm-up exercise to the devastating "Noonward Race" which follows. This is an absolute guitar shredfest, with McLaughlin playing with such passion, dexterity, volume, and sheer speed that he makes most rock guitarists appear to be asleep in comparison. Charged violin lines from Goodman, tasteful keyboard embellishments from Hammer and furious drumming from Cobham takes this piece blazing into the stratosphere. This is the Mahavishnu Orchestra at full throttle and playing at warp speed!
This leads up to a simply staggering performance of "One Word." Beginning with a haunting and frightening sequence that gives way to a relatively straightforward jam, McLaughlin adds delicious wah-wah guitar, while the bandmembers trade a seemingly endless barrage of solos. Billy Cobham gets a showcase in the middle, beginning smoothly and continuously escalating in both speed and dynamics, preparing one for the explosive second half of the piece. When the group launches back in, playing in 13/8 time, continually increasing in speed, McLaughlin, Goodman and Hammer all blaze away in a manner that is nothing short of telepathic. Beneath all this, Laird and Cobham anchor things, while contributing to the overall searing effect. This spectacular performance brings the early show to a close.
When they return to the stage for an encore, they begin with "Hope." Although brief, this unfolds in an elegant, magisterial way, before Cobham suddenly blasts off into "Awakening." Although incomplete, this too has moments of frightening intensity and the telepathy between these musicians is functioning at an astounding level.