(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Jerry Goodman- Violin
Jan Hammer- Rhodes Piano, Mini Moog
Rick Laird- Bass
John McLaughlin- Guitars
Billy Cobham- Drums, Percussion
Ahhh, 1973, a magical year where musical exploration is concerned! Certainly in the realm of the jazz-rock fusion arena, it was positively nuclear!! One of fusion's most nuclear proponents would release a jaw-dropping swan song. This ladies and gentlemen, is that swan song.
Ultimately blown apart by internal tensions, the Mahavishnu Orchestra in its brief existence blazed a brave trail and its influence on others is undeniable (Brand X and Deus Ex Machina as just 2 examples).
Taped in New York's Central Park one summer night in 1973 in front of an alternately restless and dumbstruck audience, TMO is shown in full fury stretching out and showing its spontaneous side far more than the studio albums could hope to capture. Here is where the band's amazing blend of Coltrane, Hendrix and Indian ragas hit its peak. 4 strikes of a large gong introduce "Trilogy" with McLaughlin's churning 12-string laying a foundation for the band to roar in with a raga inflected main theme. From here, McLaughlin and Hammer engage in a lively dialogue that darn near threatens to blow itself to bits and then BOOM, the band nails that main theme out of nowhere! The second section finds Goodman and Laird laying down a loping haunting unison melody supported by McLaughlin's chiming 12 string and Hammer conjuring up exotic bird calls from another world as Cobham unleashes firestorms of percussive brilliance. All quiets down for a moment, and then a machine gun snare drum blast from Cobham kicks the band into a hyper-speed 4-way jam and then the whole band miraculously nails that raga-like main theme once again and ends with a stunned audience roaring its approval.
"Sister Andrea" is as close to a blues shouter as the Mahavishnu Orchestra would get (save for "Dance of the Maya" on IMF). But before long, the shout of the blues gives way to otherworldly ruminations paving the way for a spectacular McLaughlin raga-drenched solo guitar outburst, cushioned by Hammer's swirling Rhodes. It all builds to a white-hot frenzy as the band roars back in for a series of blues-drenched exchanges between Hammer and Goodman before ending spectacularly, again to the audiencees delight.
And finally, the mother of all MO epics, "Dream". Starting with a dreamy, mysterious ostinato figure by Hammer and Laird, Goodman's violin enters playing long haunting phrases as McLaughlin flutters madly just underneath. Hammer continues to unleash mysterious chords and arpeggios as the band builds up to a driving main section with a loping melody that would make your head spin as McLaughlin and Goodman lock together in a frightening unison! From there, a metal-meets-raga- section ensues as McLaughlin and Cobham fire phrases back and forth in a manner not unlike Coltrane and Elvin Jones years earlier. After this exchange, the band roars back in for a spectacular restatement of the main theme and on to a spine-chilling conclusion. McLaughlin and Goodman make searing interjections in a manner not unlike King Crimson (the Wetton/Bruford/Cross lineup). The two bands did draw a lot of comparisons and discussion. One by one, the instruments drop out until only Hammer is left conjuring up mysterious chords and colors. There is stunned silence and then the audience roars again, and tries to put its jaws back in their sockets. WHHOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAA!
Now, after all that brilliance, does this Owl have any quibbles?
Well, I have 2, and these are not directed at the band, but rather towards the record company!!
A) The muddy sound quality!!!! It has about all the crispness of an 8-track tape! Someone at Sony DID NOT do a very good job of transferring this to CD. GET THIS THING INTO REMASTERING ON THE DOUBLE!!!!!
B) I wonder, was this the entire concert or was there more to it and was it taped? If so, STOP SITTING ON IT AND RELEASE IT! This was a GOOD NIGHT!!!!!!!!
But gripes against Sony aside, this is one mind-blowing fusion experience not to be missed. It's enough to make me really wish time-travel was possible! Just to be putting my jaw back in its' socket!