Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mahavishnu Orchestra - April 21, 1972, Cleveland, Ohio

When you could still get away with stuff like this...

Out of the ashes of Tony Williams' first Lifetime group, Miles Davis' band and a group called The Flock (no relation to Flock of Seagulls) came one of the most supercharged groups of any generation, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. While on the one hand, they're best remembered for long, high-powered jazz-fusion, it's a little unfair to reduce them to simply that. After all, they were basically a jazz supergroup.

Miles Davis something of the catalyst here, as both McLaughlin and Cobham spent time in his studio band at about the same time. Violinist Jerry Goodwin came via the jazz/rock band The Flock; allegedly he was living on a farm when the call from McLaughlin came. Jan Hammer wasn't yet the keytar-wearing, flashy synth-driven composer he'd become (still had his hair, too) and Rick Laird was more known for playing bass than for his photography. But right out of the gate, the group clicked. Their first LP is seminal, still sounding fresh after nearly 50 years, and even the early live gigs from 1971 show them working on taking their songs deep into jam territory.

Indeed, by spring 1972, they'd become a touring unit that blew backing bands off stage; according to Ruth Underwood, Frank Zappa was so blown away by them it inspired his group to reach new heights (or he was simply jealous, if you believe McLaughlin). And the way they came onto stage was itself powerful: opening with silence, then a loud wall of sound as everyone smashed into the opening number, and finally McLaughlin's spellbinding guitar.

This Cleveland set has been extensively bootlegged, usually under the title Wild Strings. And according to legend, it was at one point readied for release by Columbia. I remain skeptical of that - it's only been recently they started issuing Miles Davis concerts and he's a far bigger name than McLaughlin or Mahavishnu - but I will say this show is great, and despite it's brevity (just four tunes), shows this iteration of the band at full power, before fatigue and bitterness set in; by the end of 1973, this group was finished for good.

1 comment:

M.D. Milner said...

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