Between Nothingness And Eternity (Mahavishnu Orchestra Live, 1973)

Personnel: McLaughlin -- guitar, Jerry Goodman -- violin, Jan Hammer -- keyboards, Moog, Billy Cobham -- drums, Rick Laird -- electric bass

All compositions by John McLaughlin except "Sister Andrea" by Jan Hammer
Recorded live in New York (at the Central Park), August 1973 (click here for a photo)

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This is the only official live recording by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Despite his tremendous popularity during the seventies, McLaughlin has released only two live albums in that decade (the other one being Shakti in 1975). This is quite surprising, knowing that he was notoriously known for producing his best material on the stage, rather than in the studio. Despite this well known fact, his recording company (Columbia) made a decision to largely ignore the best facet of one of their brightest stars, and to coerce him into many half-baked projects (like, Inner Worlds in 1975). This is what has, eventually, brought McLaughlin to make a breach of contract in 1980 and to sign up with Warner Bros.

Another important facet of McLaughlin's style has been largely neglected throughout his career -- his uncanny ability to handle large formats, meaning long, elaborate compositions. This is where McLaughlin really shines, and this is why he almost always delivers better material when he is playing on stage, where he is given more room to develop his musical ideas.

His first two solo albums that he cut in America (Devotion and My Goal's Beyond) both featured prolonged jams that were confined within extremely interesting and intelligent musical structures (especially "Peace One" and "Peace Two" from My Goal's Beyond). On this live album we finally get a chance to hear Mahavishnu Orchestra in its full glory, especially on the final and the longest cut, "Dream".

1. Trilogy (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) Thus ends one of the most flamboyant live recordings ever released. Doubtless, the highlight of this album is the large, monolithic "Dream" that had introduced and set new standards in composing and executing fusion and jazz-rock material. Of course, this was not the first time that McLaughlin indulged himself in carving an elaborate, large format composition. Prior to "Dream", he gave us beautifully conceived "Devotion" (Devotion, 1971) and a blissful "Piece One" and "Piece Two" (My Goal's Beyond, 1972). Some would argue that even "Binkey's Beam" (Extrapolation, 1969) falls into this category, but I'm more inclined to think of it as a prolonged blues-jazz jam.

And, of course, he will continue to deliver similar grandiose material in the years to follow this concert. The project immediately following this live album, and unfortunately also following the demise of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, is Apocalypse (1974). On that album, he offered us a majestically crafted "Hymn To Him", as well as the pious "Vision Is A Naked Sword". And later on, he will keep churning these ambitious, long and intricate compositions (like "India" from A Handful Of Beauty, by Shakti, 1977), etc.

Still, nothing (in my opinion) comes even close to the sheer power of vision as extolled by this band on "Dream". The architectural structure of that composition, conceived by McLaughlin, is so unbelievably simple, that it makes it really difficult to grasp. It is based on the simple idea of a rolling snowball. From an insignificant, lowly phenomenon (a simple, uneventful little motif), larger and more elaborate things form and rise. As the time unfolds, this system grows to be one gargantuan, monolithic edifice that eventually must crumble under its own weight (as described in the 'awakening' episode above). But we cannot really perceive this edifice, such is its overwhelming grandiosity. It is somewhat comparable to the grand silhouette that is emerging on the horizon -- if we look straight at it, we can't discern anything, because it completely fills our field of vision. However, as soon as we look the other way, we are able to catch a glimpse of the contours of this monstrous figure. In that precise moment, the awakening occurs.

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