Talk about your lost classics. The Mahavishnu Orchestra's 1973 album, Between Nothingness And Eternity, has to be the holy grail. It is only 42 minutes long and contains just three tracks recorded live at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, New York City, New York, over two days in August 1973. In 1974 the album reached forty-one on the Billboard Pop Album charts, but it isn't pop. How many pop albums do you know where the shortest cut is over eight minutes long and longest exceeds twenty-one minutes?
In its first incarnation the Mahavishnu Orchestra was comprised of five virtuoso musicians hell bent on pushing musical envelopes. The leader of the quintet was guitarist John McLaughlin, whose tonal, classic jazz/rock fusion forayed into areas that were then foreign and unexpected - the music of India, the rhythms of the sub-Sahara, the excitement of flamenco - and mixed them with blues, american jazz and rock 'n roll. In the process he became one of the fathers of progressive rock and jazz.
He was accompanied by Jan Hammer on keyboards, organ and Fender Rhodes piano. Hammer backed such greats as Carlos Santana, the Rolling Stones, Tommy Bolin, Jeff Beck, Stanley Clarke and Steve Lukather, just to name a few of his gigs. He also had his own successful band before joining the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He is now considered one of the founders of jazz fusion and synthpop.
Bandmate Jerry Goodman played electric violin, an instrument he helped popularize. Goodman is classically trained. His parents played in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and his uncle was the noted composer and jazz pianist Marty Rubenstein. He has played separately with each of the members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra; has recorded and performed solo and with his own band, joined the Dixie Dregs with Steve Morse and, more recently, has appeared with the bands Hectic Watermelon and Dream Theatre.
Rick Laird played bass. Laird had been the house bassist at Ronnie Scott's in London. After the Mahavishnu Orchestra he played with Stan Getz and Chick Correa. He now tutors bass and is a noted commercial photographer of musical entertainers.
One of the most influential jazz drummers of all time sat behind the set, Billy Cobham. Before playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra Cobham played with Stanley Turrentine, Horace Silver, George Benson, the Brecker Brothers, John Abercrombie and Miles Davis. As the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra began to dissolve Cobham recorded a solo album with Jan Hammer and Tommy Bolin. He also toured and recorded with Carlos Santana. Through the second half of the 1970's Cobham composed and released a number of groundbreaking jazz fusion albums. In the 1980's he worked with Cream bassist Jack Bruce and played with Bob Weir in a Grateful Dead side project band. He has also released a series of jazz funk albums with Brian Auger, Frank Gambale, Buddy Miles, Airto Moriera, George Duke, Chaka Khan, Gino Vanelli and John Scofield, among others.
Between Nothingness and Eternity is an apt title for this album. In 1973 the first Mahavishnu Orchestra had been together for three years. The Orchestra's first two albums, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds Of Fire (1973), were popular hits beyond the musicians’ wildest expectations. Here is McLaughlin with his signature double neck, 12 and 6 string, guitar wailing away as he explored the sound palette of Jimi Hendrix. Cobham added complicated classical, Indian and funk rhythms, Hammer just began to explore the possibilities of the MOOG synthesizer, accompanied by Laird's steady bass and Goodman's soaring electric violin counterparts to McLaughlin's guitar.
Unfortunately, this line-up became strained under the weight of its own success and began to quarrel. By late 1973 they had a falling out in London during a recording session and wouldn't talk to each other. Instead of releasing the album they had come to London to record, in November 1973 McLaughlin released Between Nothingness and Eternity. It contains live versions of some of what the band was working on in London. By early 1974 the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra fell apart and it did so without releasing the partially complete studio album (it was later released in 1999 under the title, The Lost Trident Sessions.)
On Between Nothingness and Eternity you hear what can only be described as cutting edge progressive jazz/rock. It paved the way for what has followed - heavy metal, alternative rock, psychedelic rock, jam, funk and fusion - the Orchestra sowed musical seeds. If you listen close enough you can feel the tensions mounting between the musicians. They were at a crossroads and you can feel that change is about to occur.
The Orchestra would continue in several different forms through about 1987 and many a famous musician would come to play with John McLaughlin, but it was never the same again. This is the first Mahavishnu Orchestra's only live album recorded when the original quintet was near the top of its fame and experimentation. After this their music would no longer sound the same. It floated into nothingness and now may last for all eternity.
Look for it on vinyl. You won't be sorry.
- Old School