Considering the lack of commercially available footage of the Mahavishnu Orchestra (basically, there is none), this new release from the folks at Eagle Rock Entertainment, Live at Montreux 1984/1974 is going to be quite a godsend for many fans of the legendary fusion band. The footage here is from two shows a decade apart at the famous jazz festival in Switzerland, both featuring entirely different bands, the only holdout of course being guitarist John McLaughlin. The 1974 set is the MKII line-up, featuring McLaughlin, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, bassist Ralphe Armstrong, drummer Michael Walden, organist/vocalist Gayle Moran, Bob Knapp on flute/percussion, Steve Kindler & Carol Shive on violin, cellist Rhillip Hirschi, Steve Frankovitch on various horns, and Marsha Westbrook on alto sax. This was the line-up that recorded the adventurous Apocalypse album, which is played here in it's entirety, along with the wonderful track "Sanctuary" from the classic Birds of Fire album. Sadly, only "Wings of Karma" and "Hymm to Him" are included here in video format, as the rest of the set is audio only. Still, it's easy to be marveled at the skill of Ponty, whose loud, electric violin flights really sizzle, especially when paired against McLaughlin's rapid fire guitar bursts from his Yamaha double neck guitar. The young Walden also is fun to watch, showing that he was a more than capable replacement for Billy Cobham, and bassist Armstrong really lays down some wild fretless bass grooves throughout this set. The sound and audio is pretty decent given the time that it was recorded, and although it would have been nice to see video of the entire show, the audio tracks are scorching nontheless, especially "Smile of the Beyond" and "Vision is a Naked Sword". Despite the fact that most fans are probably clamoring for something to be released featuring footage of the classic first line-up of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this will have to suffice for the time being.
Disc One features the 1984 line-up of the band, which McLaughlin put together long after he disbanded the group and went off into acoustic territory with Shakti. Here, John assembled acclaimed young sax player Bil Evans, Mitchell Forman on keyboards, acrobatic bassist Jonas Hellborg, and drummer Danny Gottlieb. Coming off the then new Mahavishnu album, the band took a more light-jazz approach, heavy on groove, the use of electronics (McLaughlin was big into the Synclavier 2 at the time) and melody, rather than extended jazz-rock solos, prog rock adventurism, and deep funk that the earlier band had made famous. There's some charming & well played numbers here, like "Nostalgia", "East Side, West Side", and the extended medley, with McLaughlin seeming to enjoy dusting out his electric guitar again and Evans really showing what a great sax player he was. Hellborg and Gottlieb also made a great team here as well, and the bassist especially showing some commanding chops in a setting that would essentially launch his career into the fusion world.
In summary, this is a must have DVD for Mahavishnu Orchestra and fusion fans alike, and will have to hold us over until hopefully the early footage of the classic line-up is officially released. Only then will we be able to chuck our old grainy VHS tapes away that show McLaughlin, Hammer, Cobham, Laird, and Goodman in action. Till then, enjoy!
DVD 1 (1984)
3) East Side, West Side
4) Clarendon Hills
5) Medley: Blues for L.W. /It's the Pits/Living On the Crest of a Wave/Jozy/Pacific Express/Mitch Match/Mitch Match (Reprise)
DVD 2 (1974)
1) Wings of Karma
2) Hymm to Him
3) Power of Love-audio track
4) Smile of the Beyond-audio track
5) Vision is a Naked Sword-audio track
6) Sanctuary-audio track