Monday, November 8, 2010

AllMediaReviews Essential Music: Mahavishnu Orchestra/Related Projects

Mahavishnu Orchestra/Solo sideprojects

When I was 1st introduced to "fusion" or more so known as "jazz-rock" around 2000 or 2001, Mahavishnu Orchestra along with Return to Forever and Weather Report were the 3 names stressed to me to be essential. And their classic period when they had the lineup of John McLaughlin (guitar), Jan Hammer (keys), Jerry Goodman (violin), Rick Laird (bass) and Billy Cobham (drums). That lineup was maybe best known for 2 records in particular. Birds of Fire and The Inner Mounting Flame. And it's funny how while I did like those albums, I never was as grabbed by them quite as much as by a couple of the others. For starters, one of the people who introduced me to Mahavishnu and most of the jazz-rock initially was also the cohost of the radio show I did on KFAI around that time. He also on 1 show, ended up playing some music from my favorite jazz (or related to jazz) record of all-time, Jerry Goodman and Jan Hammer's Like Children.

That show he played some of the stuff off that album really impressed me. He actually was so excited of finding a copy at the time, he didn't even announce what the artist was on the air until after playing several cuts off it. One of the tracks he played was the fat, lead bass melody track "Country and Eastern Music" which totally got my attention on what kind of album it was. So much so, I seek-ed it out only to find it was never issued on cd. I found a couple of tracks from a Jeff Beck Group live cd, and a Jan Hammer compilation, but finally around 2005 or 2006 Jan Hammer's back catalog was being issued or reissued on cd, and it was made available. The percussion and production stood out. It really flowed well, and unlike the other MO records, it really seemed to be less-is-more.

I recall not long after hearing some Like Children, my co-host brought in and played some music off the recently released disc The Lost Trident Sessions. I for some reason, enjoyed that album more than any of the actual MO albums I'd heard. I suppose part of that had to do with the fact it included some of the LC songs,"I Wonder" and "Stepping Tones" namely.

But over time, I just found that material, better, and the whole album working better as a whole. Not too long after, I picked up their live record Between Nothingness and Eternity which included a lot of that music as well, although I won't deny, that live album I haven't ever got too into, really nearly as much as like Weather Report's Live and Unreleased.

However, one live album I have got into, and enjoy a fair amount, just like, Goodman/Hammer's Like Children, is not an actual Mahavishnu album, but included their magnificent drummer Billy Cobham along with Frank Zappa alum George Duke, simply titled Live in Europe. While they didn't play any of the MO music, they were doing a cool, funky kind of jazz-rock. And one of the biggest things about that album, was actually the cover art. The drawings with their heads suspended by disembodied hands, was just too freaky and wacked-out for me to ignore. And it remains one of my favorite album covers to this day. Plus it looks really cool on vinyl.

Of course there were other sideprojects I came to enjoy. One being Billy's solo record Spectrum which by many is regarded as essential as any of the Mahavishnu albums, and any in jazz-rock.

And then John McLaughlin and his East-Indian-styled Shakti project. And while I have never been consumed by that, I have always considered it among, if not the best *fusing* of jazz and ethnic music. Plus the live experience seeing it is as unique a live experience I've ever had. I had known Zakir Hussein from seeing him play live with some different noteworthy performers. Fareed Haque, Kai Eckhardt and Steve Smith in the band "East Meets Jazz" along namely. So hearing Zakir play with McLaughlin was certainly as enjoyable as it sounds. With Shakti, it was in some ways the opposite of what McLaughlin was doing with MO. It was more flowing and free-form. Which admittedly, is best heard live, but the album I have, is still as good of a mood album that I have listened to in my music listening experience.

Another part of my experience with MO was how I have seen some people cover their music live. Probably most notably, Dean Magraw's band Eight-Head once played "Dance of Maya" at the Dakota Jazz club, and I was floored. Which part of that I'm not surprised since it's Dean and Eight-Head, but also part of that makes me wonder if my appreciation for these guys might be closer to many of their big fans, if I ever had the chance to see them live. I can say something similar about finally seeing Return to Forever back in 2008, but I'm skeptical if a true classic lineup reunion will ever happen. But who knows since a RTF reunion was often doubted as well.

But in the mean time, I hope more folks can discover them, and especially those related releases like Like Children and Live In Europe namely.

Albums: Like Children, The Lost Trident Sessions, Live In Europe, The Inner Mounting Flame
Songs: I Wonder, Stepping Tones, The Noonward Race, Country and Eastern Music
Sister Andrea, Full Moon Boogie, Dance of Maya, Earth (Still Our Home), Giving In Gently/I Wonder