Suspense is always interesting. Because of that simple fact, the press creates hype around album releases, movie releases and any sort of upcoming event. People eagerly await these certain releases, and usually, because of all the anticipation, the world is disappointed with the release. This causes the cliche "bad sequel." The Mahavishnu Orchestra, a band that needs no introduction in the jazz world, only really released two studio albums. They went to record a third at Trident Studios in England and broke up in the process. After the live album Between Nothingness and Eternity was released in 1973, no one heard the band again, and suspense and mystery covered the 3rd studio album. In 1999, a full 26 years since the band's final release, Columbia released The Lost Trident Sessions, a glimpse into what could have been the third studio album.
The Lost Trident Sessions find the Mahavishnu Orchestra at what could have been a turning point in their career. The band always showed a rockier side to them, especially McLaughlin playing distorted electric guitar, but The Lost Trident Sessions shows a complete abandonment of their jazz influences. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Since each member of this band is excellent at their instrument, whatever they do will surely be nothing short of excellent. McLaughlin slowly becomes the center of most of their music, showing his ego growing larger and larger. While most members get a chance to solo, his solos are by far the longest. Although the rock is brought out even more, Jerry Goodman makes a great appearance on this album, soloing his best ever. His soloing is so blisteringly fast; it's hard to imagine strumming all that with a bow. The real letdown on the album is the downgrade appearances of Rick Laird and Jan Hammer. Gone are the extremely tasteful bass solos like One Word, and in is the mixing putting him too quiet and his basslines are indistinguishable unless the listener tries to find them. Billy Cobham plays excellently as always, playing amazing fills and still keeping a steady beat with everything else going on.
The album opens quietly with Dream, starting with keyboard and bass. Violin swells fade in and out along with acoustic guitar, much in a Spanish style (think Tango De Roxanne from Moulin Rouge). Acoustic guitar becomes more prevalent until being the only thing heard except for the faint bassline. Cymbal swells are also faintly heard. Then the violin takes a short solo in this softer feel, definitely a departure for Mahavishnu. Jan Hammer takes a solo on keyboard as well. Hammer is not the best at soloing in this quieter feel. A snare hit brings more intensity to the song, yet still does not enter a full beat. Finally, a floor tom roll brings in a driving two note bassline and an up tempo drum beat. The keyboard plays a bit of a solo here, a bit taken away by the production though. After his solo, the violin and guitar play the main melodic line. Bass and drums drop out and the other three members all play fast runs and create a rush of melodies. Then the main melodic theme is repeated to lead into a different feel that sounds almost like a typical classic rock song. However, the drums definitely give some variety to this feel.
In this feel, Goodman takes a solo, almost not sounding like a violin at times just because it is so fast. Just because of the tone of the instrument, some places have a much more country feel than the band would like to convey. McLaughlin takes a solo, accompanied only by the absolutely stellar drumming of Cobham, who seems to know exactly what McLaughlin is going to do. Really, McLaughlin's solo isn't that interesting in comparison to the drumming of Cobham. McLaughlin finally settles on a melody, and the rest of the ensemble joins him in that melodic line. Once again, the main melodic theme returns, showcasing some excellent chords from Hammer as well. The band plays with the listener's mind, seemingly returning to the classic rock feel but instead goes to a funkier feel. The song closes on this feel.
The third track, Sister Andrea, is a welcome return to the jazzier feel of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Opening with a swelled cymbal roll, the song immediately grooves once the bass enters. Rick Laird, although taking a backseat on this album, still lays down perfect grooves as he always has. Hammer plays a keyboard melody while McLaughlin and Goodman fill in every once in a while. Little rhythmic nuances are all over from Cobham. The song comes down a notch, with Cobham playing on the rim and Hammer quietly playing some chords. The song remains in this slower style with a great bassline from Laird. The guitar starts a solo, tracked a bit too loud for the current feel. A drum roll signifies the build up to a huge climax. This flawlessly and almost unnoticeably transitions back to funkier feel. The band trades a bit on soloing throughout this feel, however McLaughlin is the main feature, occasionally stepping in on other people's solo time. Once again, the song transitions back to the lighter feel. Hammer starts to take a solo in this section, progressively becoming the main voice. Instead of a drum roll bringing back the climax, the song progressively gets louder and louder. Hammer's solo is not his best; the voice he uses is quite jumpy and annoying. The song ends on a long chord held out with McLaughlin screaming on top.
Another standout is the surprisingly short (by the band's standards) I Wonder. The song starts with violin plucking and McLaughlin outlining the chord progression. A huge screaming lead melody comes screaming overtop by McLaughlin as he wastes no time getting to his solo. This solo is one of his best, full of emotion and not dragging on for too long, most likely due to the song length. After his solo, the rhythm section is given a chance to be featured, putting all sorts of strange rhythmic fills throughout the main chord progression. Hammer takes a solo in a much better voicing than his solo on Sister Andrea, giving him a chance to showcase his amazing ability to build actual memorable melodies with his soloing. The song fades out on the Hammer solo, coming all too soon.
The Lost Trident Sessions is probably not the final product Mahavishnu would have put out, seeing as I Wonder ends in the middle of a solo without giving much of a chance for anyone to shine. However, since the band is almost entirely improvisational, the music that appears is incredible. Mahavishnu never cease to amaze with their virtuosity, strange rhythmic conceptions, and outstanding solos. Their career ended all too soon, yet they left one of the largest imprints on fusion history ever.