Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mahavishnu Orchestra - 2011 Complete Columbia Collection [5 CD Box]


The Complete Original Mahavishnu Orchestra Columbia Albums Collection (5 CDs):

1 The Inner Mounting flame (1971)
2. Birds Of Fire (1973)
3. The Lost Trident Sessions (1973)
4. Between Nothingness and Eternity (1974)
5.Bonus Disc: Between Nothingness And Eternity [Disc 2]

The Complete Columbia Albums Collection features the output of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Rick Laird, and Jerry Goodman). When it was released in 2012, this compact box set sold for roughly the same price as two full-price CDs. It contains the studio albums The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1973). The live release Between Nothingness & Eternity (1973) is joined by Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity, which features three cuts from the same August 1973 Central Park performance documented on the original, along with another three cuts recorded the previous night at the same location. The fifth and final disc is the 1999-released The Lost Trident Sessions. As with similar Legacy sets for Stanley Clarke, Weather Report, and George Duke, the discs are in durable LP replica sleeves that feature all-original artwork reproductions. Full credits are listed in the 15-page booklet, which also includes brief notes from McLaughlin and Richard Seidel.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra, in its original incarnation, lasted just four years, but in that brief time, the pioneering quintet set both the template and the high-water mark for fusion music. No band ever rocked as hard in a jazzy place as guitarist John McLaughlin's charging ensemble.

McLaughlin had already built a firm reputation in his native England as a keen improviser with blues and rock leanings when he was invited by drummer Tony Williams in early 1969 to join him in New York. Almost immediately, McLaughlin was swept up into the very epicenter of the burgeoning fusion movement, appearing on in 1969 alone three of the genre's most significant recordings: Emergency! (by the newly-formed Tony Williams Lifetime) and In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, the epochal Miles Davis albums that kick started fusion.

When it was time for McLaughlin -- who, in his initial New York stay, had quickly developed from a gifted player to a brilliant one -- to form his own band, he brought together musicians who could apply full-force rock energy to improvisatory jazz skill. Keyboardist Jan Hammer, violinist Jerry Goodman, and drummer Billy Cobham were each extravagant virtuosos eager to match McLaughlin at his own game; bassist Rick Laird contained the passion with his steady bass lines. Dubbed the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the new band released its debut recording, The Inner Mounting Flame in August of 1971: fusion as we know it was now fully born.

Younger listeners raised on rock responded to the band's vitality and extraordinary musicianship; before long The Mahavishnu Orchestra was appearing with the likes of The Byrds and Aerosmith. Subsequent hit albums built on The Inner Mounting Flame s innovations; Hammer added synthesizers to his arsenal, developing a keyboard style nearly as influential as that of McLaughlin's frenetic guitar work and Cobham's rumbling percussive attack. But it was nearly inevitable that the life span of such a dynamic ensemble would be brief. The Mahavishnu Orchestra threw down the gauntlet; fusioneers who followed have been trying to catch up ever since.

The original Mahavishnu Orchestra only lasted a short time, but they created a tremendous body of work. Not quite rock but too loud for jazz, they blazed the trail for fusion and left everyone far behind. This collection has both studio albums - with not a bad cut between them -and the live 'Between Nothingness and Eternity', which, unusually for the time, had all new music on it and was more expansive, with the shortest cut being nearly ten minutes long.

Tensions among such high powered individuals were perhaps inevitable, especially concerning songwriting royalties, and the group broke up after only two short years. It was a real pleasure when decades later 'The Lost Trident Sessions' was released, a complete album recorded and abandoned during the last days of the group. Much of the material overlaps the live album, with less intensity but greater precision and accuracy. It often sounds slightly incomplete and doesn't quite reach the heights of the first two albums, but it is still superior material to everything else to come from other contemporary bands.

But the real treat of this box set, besides the remastering, besides the great price, and besides the informative booklet, is the bonus album of live material. This stuff is as smoking hot as you would expect and clocks in at a generous running time. A lot of the classics are covered, often at blistering speed. This alone is worth the price of the box set. But wait, there's more! The first album also has a 15 minute bonus live cut from the Mar-Y-Sol festival.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra may not be everybody's cup of tea, and jazz traditionalists dismiss them as too loud and fast. But for the fan of early 1970s music, of jazz fusion or progressive rock (the band is closer to King Crimson than anyone else, in truth), they were the Kings of the Mountain.

Until recently, this set had only been sold on Sony's "Pop Market" website, which is absurdly secretive, not revealing song line-ups for product, so it is impossible for fans to know (before buying) if their box sets contain any previously unreleased material. I've now purchased this set from Amazon.com, and so I can now reveal the specifics. The contents are:

1."The Inner Mounting Flame"(original 1971 Don Puluse mix), plus a bonus track: a 15 minute "Noonward Race" live at the "Mar Y Sol" festival, which was originally released on a 2-L.P. ATCO Records "Mar Y Sol" various artists set)

2.Birds of Fire

3.The Lost Trident Sessions

4.Between Nothingness & Eternity

5."Unreleased tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity".Tracklisting: "Hope", "Awakening", "You Know, You Know","One Word", "Stepping Tones", "Vital Transformation", "The Dance of Maya". These tracks were all recorded August 17 & 18,1973 at Wollman Rink in New York.

The booklet with the box set gives the basic information for each album , but does not reproduce the liner notes for "The Lost Trident Sessions". Also, I would note that I would have preferred the late 1980's Mark Wilder remix of "The Inner Mounting Flame" because of its superior sound quality, but I've got it elsewhere in my collection.

The Disc Five of unreleased material is worth the price of the box set's purchase. Some may complain about the omission of later Mahavishnu Orchestra albums, but the set is titled "The Original Mahavishnu Orchestra-The Complete Columbia Albums Collection", and so it is complete; all the released albums by the original John McLaughlin/Jan Hammer/Rick Laird/Billy Cobham/Jerry Goodman line-up.


Disc 1
1971 [2011] The Inner Mounting Flame 


The Inner Mounting Flame is Mahavishnu Orchestra's first studio album, released in 1971 and consisting solely of original compositions by John McLaughlin.
The track "You Know, You Know" was sampled in Massive Attack's "One Love", Mos Def's "Kalifornia", Black Sheep's single "Similak Child", David Sylvian's "I Surrender", Cecil Otter's "Rebel Yellow" and Blahzay Blahzay's "Intro" from Blah Blah Blah album.
A remastered version of the album, on CD, was released in 1998 by Sony Music Entertainment. It features a facsimile of the LP front cover, a new set of liner notes by Bob Belden, as well as many photographs of the band. "The Inner Mounting Flame" was included in 2011 as part of "The Complete Columbia Albums Collection" boxset, along with the other albums by the first line-up of the band, including "The Lost Trident Sessions". This version includes a version of "The Noonward Race" recorded live at the Mar Y Sol Pop Festival 3 April 1972. That version was previously available on the compilation album "Mar Y Sol: The First International Puerto Rico Pop Festival", but the version included in the boxset is two minutes longer.

This is the album that made John McLaughlin a semi-household name, a furious, high-energy, yet rigorously conceived meeting of virtuosos that, for all intents and purposes, defined the fusion of jazz and rock a year after Miles Davis' Bitches Brew breakthrough. It also inadvertently led to the derogatory connotation of the word fusion, for it paved the way for an army of imitators, many of whose excesses and commercial panderings devalued the entire movement. Though much was made of the influence of jazz-influenced improvisation in the Mahavishnu band, it is the rock element that predominates, stemming directly from the electronic innovations of Jimi Hendrix. The improvisations, particularly McLaughlin's post-Hendrix machine-gun assaults on double-necked electric guitar and Jerry Goodman's flights on electric violin, owe more to the freakouts that had been circulating in progressive rock circles than to jazz, based as they often are on ostinatos on one chord. These still sound genuinely thrilling today on CD, as McLaughlin and Goodman battle Jan Hammer's keyboards, Rick Laird's bass, and especially Billy Cobham's hard-charging drums, whose jazz-trained technique pushed the envelope for all rock drummers. What doesn't date so well are the composed medium- and high-velocity unison passages that are played in such tight lockstep that they can't breathe. There is also time out for quieter, reflective numbers that are drenched in studied spirituality ("A Lotus on Irish Streams") or irony ("You Know You Know"); McLaughlin was to do better in that department with less-driven colleagues elsewhere in his career. Aimed with absolute precision at young rock fans, this record was wildly popular in its day, and it may have been the cause of more blown-out home amplifiers than any other record this side of Deep Purple.

Tracks Listing

1. Meeting Of The Spirits (6:52)
2. Dawn (5:10)
3. Noonward Race (6:28)
4. A Lotus On Irish Streams (5:39)
5. Vital Transformation (6:16)
6. The Dance Of Maya (7:17)
7. You Know, You Know (5:07)
8. Awakening (3:32)

Total Time: 46:34

Line-up / Musicians

- John McLaughlin / guitar
- Jerry Goodman / violin
- Jan Hammer / piano, electric piano and organ
- Rick Laird / bass
- Billy Cobham / drums


Disc 2
1973 [2011] Birds Of Fire


Birds of Fire is Mahavishnu Orchestra's second album. It was released in the first half of 1973 and is the last studio album released by the original Mahavishnu Orchestra line-up before the group dissolved, although Between Nothingness and Eternity, a live album, was recorded and released later that same year. (The final studio recordings by this line-up would be released as The Lost Trident Sessions in 1999).
As in the case of The Mahavishnu Orchestra's previous album, The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire consists solely of compositions by John McLaughlin. This includes the track "Miles Beyond (Miles Davis)", which McLaughlin dedicated to his friend and former bandleader.
The back cover of the LP features a poem entitled "Revelation" by Sri Chinmoy.
A remastered version of the album, on CD, was released in 2000 by Sony Music Entertainment. It features a facsimile of the LP cover and a new set of liner notes by Bill Milkowski, as well as photographs of the band.

Emboldened by the popularity of Inner Mounting Flame among rock audiences, the first Mahavishnu Orchestra set out to further define and refine its blistering jazz-rock direction in its second -- and, no thanks to internal feuding, last -- studio album. Although it has much of the screaming rock energy and sometimes exaggerated competitive frenzy of its predecessor, Birds of Fire is audibly more varied in texture, even more tightly organized, and thankfully more musical in content. A remarkable example of precisely choreographed, high-speed solo trading -- with John McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman, and Jan Hammer all of one mind, supported by Billy Cobham's machine-gun drumming and Rick Laird's dancing bass -- can be heard on the aptly named "One Word," and the title track is a defining moment of the group's nearly atonal fury. The band also takes time out for a brief bit of spaced-out electronic burbling and static called "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love." Yet the most enticing pieces of music on the record are the gorgeous, almost pastoral opening and closing sections to "Open Country Joy," a relaxed, jocular bit of communal jamming that they ought to have pursued further. This album actually became a major crossover hit, rising to number 15 on the pop album charts, and it remains the key item in the first Mahavishnu Orchestra's slim discography.

Tracks Listing

1. Birds Of Fire (5:41)
2. Miles Beyond (Miles Davis) (4:39)
3. Celestial Terrestrial Commuters (2:53)
4. Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love (0:22)
5. Thousand Island Park (3:19)
6. Hope (1:55)
7. One Word (9:54)
8. Sanctuary (5:01)
9. Open Country Joy (3:52)
10. Resolution (2:08)

Total Time: 39:48

Line-up / Musicians

- John McLaughlin / guitar
- Jerry Goodman / violin
- Jan Hammer / piano
- Rick Laird / bass
- Billy Cobham / drums


Disc 3
1973 [2011] The Lost Trident Sessions


The Lost Trident Sessions is a studio album by jazz fusion group the Mahavishnu Orchestra, released on 21 September 1999 through Sony Music Entertainment. It was originally recorded in June 1973 at Trident Studios but was not released until 26 years later. According to the album's detailed liner notes, in November 1998 Columbia Records producer Bob Belden stumbled upon two quarter-inch tapes in Columbia's Los Angeles vault whilst gathering material for a remastered reissue of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's 1972 album Birds of Fire. The tapes were otherwise unlabelled besides the recording location, but upon further inspection they were revealed to be the two-track mixes for what would have been the Mahavishnu Orchestra's third studio album at the time

McLaughlin feels that the Orchestra was never recorded at their peak. "There is a studio album that never got released which is really good", he explains. It would have been their third studio album, following Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire. "But at the time the record was being made, emotion in the band was running so high that people could no longer see clearly. Everyone felt nervous about it". Why? "I don't know why". And McLaughlin did not pursue it either: "When the people in the band told me how they felt, I respected it. I didn't ask them to explain why they felt it. That was enough. So we put a live album out (Between Nothingness and Eternity) which was good, but it wasn't on the same level. But one day I'd like the album to come out. It's a great album"

With the exception of "John's Song #2", all compositions on this album were performed on other albums: "Dream", "Trilogy" and "Sister Andrea" appeared on the Mahavishnu Orchestra's 1973 live album Between Nothingness and Eternity, whilst "I Wonder" and "Steppings Tones" appeared on violinist Jerry Goodman and keyboardist Jan Hammer's 1974 album Like Children.

Recorded in London on June 25, 1973, these sessions for a planned third Mahavishnu Orchestra album were shelved when the band decided to put out the live Between Nothingness and Eternity instead. Bootlegged in the past, two-track mixes of the missing album were discovered in the vaults in the late '90s, paving the way for its official release in 1999. It's thus the last of the three studio albums done by the original Mahavishnu lineup (with Cobham on drums, Goodman on violin, Hammer on keyboards, and Laird on bass). Although McLaughlin had been the only composer on the first two Mahavishnu albums, he penned only three of the six tracks here, with Hammer writing two and Laird pitching in one. It's fiery, if perhaps over-busy at times, fusion, McLaughlin reaching his most feverish pitches in the frenetic concluding passage of the ten-minute "Trilogy." The numbers written by other members than McLaughlin tend to be a little more subdued, and perhaps unsurprisingly less inclined toward burning guitar solos. 

Tracks Listing

1. Dream (11:06)
2. Trilogy (9:30)
3. Sister Andrea (6:43)
4. I Wonder (3:07)
5. Stepping Stone (3:09)
6. John's Song (5:54)

Total Time: 39:45

Line-up / Musicians

- John McLaughlin / 6 & 12 string electric guitar & acoustic guitar
- Jerry Goodman / electric violin, viola & violow (custom viola with cello strings)
- Jan Hammer / electric piano & synthesizers
- Rick Laird / bass
- Billy Cobham / drums


Disc 4
1973 [2011] Between Nothingness & Eternity


Between Nothingness & Eternity is the first live album of Mahavishnu Orchestra, and last with the original line-up, released in 1973. According to the Mahavishnu Orchestra Gigs listing by Walter Kolosky, it was recorded live at the Schaefer Music Festival, held in Central Park, New York on August 17 and 18, 1973, even though, available recordings seems to prove that all of the material from the album was actually taken from the second night only. Originally, Mahavishnu Orchestra's third album was to be a studio one, recorded in June 1973 at Trident Studios in London, but was scrapped during the final days of the project. A live album containing versions of three out of the original six tracks came out instead. The original studio album was later released in 1999 as The Lost Trident Sessions.
Between Nothingness & Eternity was included in 2011 as part of The Complete Columbia Albums Collection boxset, along with the other albums by the first line-up of the band, including "The Lost Trident Sessions". This new version was a new different mix with an additional minute of music on "Sister Andrea". The boxset also contained an album called "Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity" which contains other selections from the two Central Park shows.

The first Mahavishnu Orchestra's original very slim catalog was padded out somewhat by this live album (recorded in New York's Central Park) on which the five jazz/rock virtuosos can be heard stretching out at greater length than in the studio. There are only three selections on the disc, all of which were to have been on the group's then-unissued third album -- two of them, guitarist John McLaughlin's "Trilogy: Sunlit Path/La Merede la Mer" and keyboardist Jan Hammer's "Sister Andrea," are proportioned roughly as they were in their studio renditions, while the third, McLaughlin's "Dream," is stretched to nearly double its 11-minute studio length. Each develops organically through a number of sections, and there are fewer lockstep unison passages than on the earlier recordings. McLaughlin is as flashy and noisy as ever on double-necked electric guitar, and Hammer and violinist Jerry Goodman are a match for him in the speed department, with drummer Billy Cobham displaying a compelling, raw power and dexterity to his work as well, especially on the CD edition, which also gives bassist Rich Laird a showcase for his slightly subtler work. Yet for all of the superb playing, one really doesn't hear much music on this album; electricity and competitive empathy are clearly not enough, particularly on the 21-minute "Dream," which left a lot of fans feeling let down at the end of its side-two-filling run on the LP. In the decades since this album was released, the studio versions of these three pieces, along with other tracks being worked up for their third album, have appeared as The Lost Trident Sessions -- dating from May and June of 1973 -- thus giving fans a means of comparing this repertory to what the band had worked out (or not worked out) in the studio; and Between Nothingness and Eternity has come up a bit in estimation as a result, benefiting as it does from the spontaneity and energy of a live performance, though even that can only carry this work so far -- beyond the personality conflicts that broke up the band, they seem to have been approaching, though not quite reaching, a musical dead end as well.

Tracks Listing

1. Trilogy Medley (12:01)
... The Sunlit Path
... La Mere De La Mer
... Tomorrow's Story Not The Same
2. Sister Andrea (8:22)
3. Dream (21:24)

Total Time: 41:47

Line-up / Musicians

- Jerry Goodman / violin
- Jan Hammer / synthesizer, piano, keyboards, Moog synthesizer
- Rick Laird / bass
- John McLaughlin / synthesizer, guitar
- Sri Chinmoy / poetry
- Billy Cobham / drums


Disc 5
1973 [2011] Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness and Eternity


Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity is a live album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, first released in 2011 as part of The Complete Columbia Albums Collection boxset, along with the other albums by the first line-up of the band, including The Lost Trident Sessions. As the title explains, the album contains other selections from the two Central Park shows from August 1973 from which the live album Between Nothingness and Eternity was culled.

While the other half of this concert, recorded in August 1973 in NYC's Central Park, was released as Mahavishnu Orchestra's third album, these recordings have been sitting in a vault for almost 40 years.  Well recorded, and with at times, blistering performances, this concert should be regarded as essential. The Mahavishnu Orchestra (original lineup) only existed for two short years. Get this. You will be glad you did.

Shame on Columbia records for keeping this hidden for 40 years. They seem to have a fetish for this sort of thing. After all, they allowed what we now have as "The Lost Trident Sessions" to languish unseen for 25 years. It was live versions of the major songs from that recording which Columbia released as the original "Between Nothingness & Eternity." This second volume from that same concert contains a shorty from "Trident" and three pieces each from "The Inner Mounting Flame" and "Birds Of Fire." But these are not simply readings of familiar tunes. This is a band at the pinnacle of its estimable powers. Each player is a brilliant soloist, but also a team player who comps for the others. The guys have stretched and squashed these pieces, smacked them flat and thrown them over, popped them inside out and played them backwards. They've wrung as much joy, peace, exuberance, anguish, anger and laughter from them as possible, until they resemble the originals at times, but also not at all. This is muscular music which calls to mind a world record athletic performance: its tempos are furious, its harmonies angular and shifting, its rhythms thunderous yet intricate, its execution serving precision and inspiration equally. It will hit you in the solar plexus and knock the wind straight out of you.

Five stars is not nearly enough for this music. How about several hundred each for Billy, Rick, Jan, Jerry and Johnny Mac. And another hundred for Rex Bogue's (RIP) magnificent double rainbow, the finest example possible of the right guitar for the right player.

Track listing:

1     Hope     1:48
2     Awakening     14:09
3     You Know, You Know     7:12
4     One Word     18:30
5     Stepping Tones     2:02
6     Vital Transformation     6:16
7     The Dance Of The Maya     14:04

Line-up / Musicians

- John McLaughlin / guitar
- Jerry Goodman / violin
- Jan Hammer / piano
- Rick Laird / bass
- Billy Cobham / drums


9 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Chiquilicuatre y ZappaOctober 3, 2015 at 1:19 AM

    many thanks

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  3. Thanks you so much for All these great albums ! You are my savior

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  4. In many ways, this set is the crowning achievement of 20th century music. Arguably, this is the best fusion progressive jazz rock music.
    What are you waiting for? Listen now.

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  5. Incredible boxset!
    Many thanks Crimhead!

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  6. Great - fantastic blog- thanks a lot!

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  7. A very generous share, and a great collection from an equally great band. Thank you.

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  8. Awesome. Happy man here. Thanks very much! :)

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