Review Summary: A progged-out Jazz performance that delivers the kind of exhilarating showmanship that only John McLaughlin & Co. can produce.
There are very few artists in all of Jazz, and quite frankly any genre of music, that can match the dynamism of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Their style was so innovative, so anomalous for its time that they practically ignited a revolution in music by defying the conventions of their affiliated genres as they formulated their own unique sound. Architecting their music from the templates of his past ventures in Jazz Fusion, particularly from his work with Miles Davis and Tony Williams, John McLaughlin took The Mahavishnu Orchestra to new heights. Their style was comprised from a mildly explored direction within the emerging sound of Jazz Fusion, one that was much more reminiscent of rock music than traditional Jazz. Led by the intensity of John McLaughlin's vigorous guitar playing, The Mahavishnu Orchestra developed a sound that was like no other among their peers. Soon after releasing their landmark efforts, The Inner Mounting Flame
and Birds Of Fire
, the band quickly developed a reputation as being one of the loudest and most compelling acts in the 1970's. So with such a formidable sound manifesting the content of their studio albums, one could only imagine the kind of exhilarating performances The Mahavishnu Orchestra was capable of conjuring up in a live setting.
Between Nothingness and Eternity
, within its essence, is pretty much what we would expect from their concert repertoire. The music is impactive, rambunctious, and there are even moments of long theatrical voyages that wouldn't feel out of place in a progressive rock setting. The entire album offers a sneak-peek of songs that were recorded during the production of The Lost Trident Sessions
, which would remain unreleased until 1999. The performance begins with "Trilogy"
, which is quite frankly an epically composed piece that revisits styles that we have already heard in their previous two efforts. Opening with the familiar gong percussions that we've encountered several times within their work, Billy Cobham establishes the mood for the overture. John McLaughlin slowly fades into our perception with some light guitar playing, before the other instruments enter into the melodic scenery he's created. The band continues to expand on the melody, with John McLaughlin and keyboardist Jan Hammer taking it upon themselves to perform the solo aspects while the other instruments provide the rhythmic structure. Then, all of a sudden, celestial flourishes begin to exude from Jan Hammer's synthesizer and the music enters an atmospheric plane, while violinist Jerry Goodman takes the spotlight and ornaments this passage with graceful harmonies. Billy Cobham steadily begins to erupt in the background with power and efficacy, as his drumming serves as a catalyst that takes us away from this delicate section and into the energetic display that the band has been dying to perform.
The latter half of "Trilogy"
is nothing but hyperactive musicianship that loses any sense of restrain. Everyone gets to show off just how far they can go. The song literally becomes a medley of solos, all of them just as invigorating and dextrous as the next. "Sister Andrea"
slows things down a bit to exhibit a more mild, Funk-oriented melody. This performance is all about John McLaughlin. After the musical theme is established in the beginning of the song, everyone then silences and moves out of the way to make room for a lengthy and improvised guitar solo. This is quite frankly one of few highly opinionated moments in the entire performance. While some fans praise the fiery and passionate execution of his solos, others feel that, because of its flexible structure, it is indolently composed and only serves as a distraction from the harmonic framework rather than embellish the entity of the piece. And finally we arrive to the closing segment of Between Nothingness and Eternity, "Dream"
The song opens with bursting segments of notes from the string instruments. Rapid and aggressive, the notes discharge their sounds as if to prepare us for the inevitable release of energy that is encountered in the eminent moments of the piece. And surely, after a prolonged introductory of musical foreplay, the jam ceases to tease with stimulation and ignites like wildfire. This is perhaps the most turbulent phases of the album because the music is just overwhelming with rapturous adrenaline. No one really takes the spotlight here, though of course there are moments where each musicians gets to perform their own solos, all of the instruments work together to keep the momentum going. The fervor in Billy Cobham's thunderous drumming, the dashing rhythmic augments of pianist Jan Hammer and bassist Rick Laird, and of course, the elevated outbursts of violinist Jerry Goodman and the ever adroit John McLaughlin. Each component serves a pivotal role to magnify the musical vitality of "Dream"
. One of the most amusing aspects of the song is that the band also manages to incorporate the melodic theme from Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love"
into the middle section of the piece. Even expanding upon its elements, and eventually parting from it to venture into one of the most chaotic jams in their existence.
It practically goes without saying at this point that Between Nothingness and Eternity is a stunning and inspired display of showmanship. The nature of the content is exactly what we could expect from the band, offering the wondrous and bombastic sound that we've come to revere. Flaunts of instrumental virtuosity and unorthodox orchestrations have always been considered essential characteristics of Jazz Fusion, but many acts often form a relentless tendency to orient their music around pompous musicianship that at times come off as bloated rather than elaborate. And though pretentious soloing has served as a misstep for The Mahavishnu Orchestra on a few occasions, it's nice to see that this performance isn't too inflicted by them. Aside from very minor instances of exploratory passages, all three compositions are performed with such a diligent focus. No wasted moments to be found here, instead each musician concentrates on their part in directing the music into a premeditated destination. Each song has a purpose beyond typical erratic soloing, offering us its own unique gift to accept and acknowledge. Between Nothingness and Eternity is working on a completely different level of intellectuality than their previous efforts. The music is much more dimensional, experimenting with a wide spectrum of melodies and complicated rhythms. We can really see The Mahavishnu Orchestra becoming more and more comfortable with the subtle Progressive rock aspects of their music throughout the album. Containing only 3 songs and exceeding over 40 minutes of content, Between Nothingness and Eternity is certainly one of the band's least accessible efforts. But this is one of those albums that's just meant to be 'experienced' for what it is. Like most 'abstract' Jazz, the music actually becomes more lucid when you simply lose yourself in its splendor and magnetism. Because if you spend the whole time trying to figure it out while listening along, you completely miss out on the magic.