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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Live At Montreux 74/84 CD (album) cover

LIVE AT MONTREUX 74/84

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.56 | 12 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!

Finally some "official" film footage from the great period of MO, even if the MkII line-up fails to raise the same enthusiasm as the one that had released their first three line-ups. Actually this footage is part (50 minutes) of the Apocalypse set played at the festival in 74, followed by the rest of the set in an audio-only recording, while the first disc is a "reformation" where McLaughlin is the only historical member. Under a sober eclipse artwork, this 2 DVD set is a bit of a mixed-feeling as to the satisfaction guaranteed warranty.

If the 84 concert had been alone for sale, most likely that it would've probably been a bit of a disaster. Not that the line-up presented isn't good musicians, quite on the contrary, but the fact is that not only did they do an unknown set with a non- historical line-up, but it comes in the 80's where the music industry was definitely blinded by those awful digital equipment revolution. While Hellborg is a very good bassist and woks pretty well with drummer Danny Gottlieb (not the French cartoonist) and saxman Bill Evans is also perfect, but most of the problem rests with Forman's choice of keyboards (although they are not scandalous either), but really it is McLaughlin's almost constant use of his Synclavier-mounted guitar that screws the whole balance up. I was never a fan of that device, but here I am completely reinforced in my hatred of that stupid "gadget". Actually if you watch the DVD, this will only bother you partly, because McLaughlin's paying has lost its edge, urgency and uniqueness, because his guitar sounds like a cheap 80's keyboards. Where it would be really infuriating is if you were listening to this concert without the images: you'd have a hard time telling McLaughlin from Forman, because they are almost impossible to tell apart and you'd probably wouldn't recognize this was a MO recording or even McLaughlin's "guitar" playing. 'Nuff said of this one!!▓

The second disc is the one we all want to know about: the 74 Apocalypse album rendition. If MO had always been McLaughlin's ship, nowhere but here had it become so evident. Yes John rules his group and if not on studio recordings, it certainly shows in concert, where he is the centrepiece and star of the show. Only Jean-Luc Ponty is able (allowed??) to challenge the master, but he doesn't get all that many chances (he only plays around 50% of the time) and I'm not sure he really would like to do so, as he looks completely bored too. Furthermore when he does get a chance to play up and really shine, Gayle Moran's keyboards seem to be at their loudest of the concert (we can even see Ponty asking her to play it down), which is most likely no accident. The very same Moran that we have all seen better elsewhere: she's dressed in an awful pink nightgown-like dress and seemingly content to play the sidekick and not much else, obviously looking at her master with puppy respect/love. Gayle plays her keyboards calmly and is responsible for much of the fusion Santana-like moments (as in the Santana-Alice Coltrane collab of Illuminations) even if suggested by John himself.

However, there is a third star on stage and Narada Walden is brighter from behind his drum set than that sun being eclipsed in the artwork. Yes, that man is so hot on his kit that he always looks set at setting fire to his cymbals, and especially in the opening Wings Of Karma. As for bassist Ralph Armstrong, if he wasn't dressed completely in red (with a red Fender Precision bass) and with a way too tight Superman t-shirt, we don't really notice him much, until the second part of his lengthy bass solo at the two thirds of the last filmed piece, Hymn To Him. He even seems a bit lost some minute before his solo and discusses with John. Outside the opening minute the string section is fairly useless (except for the two lady violinists (which John seems to be looking at most of the set, ostentatiously turning his back towards Moran and Armstrong) and only starts playing after 10 minutes for a short duel with McLaughlin, than they wait until next track, where they'll have a bit more work. The same can be said of the two- man brass section that only intervenes some 19 minutes into the first track.

As for the music itself, if the Apocalypse album was a bit insufferably soft and overproduced, the live version is much rougher and livelier. While we have only two tracks of the concert that were filmed, the rest of the set was recorded and is released here as a "bonus" 'aren't they generous, uh, without having to click anything, the film being replaced by a repeated Eclipse virtual simulation. The non-filmed part of the set is clearly of the same quality (sonically speaking) than the first part and the whole album is played, somehow extended to a 2 hour concert. Not a bad disc, this only partly answers what we had of bright hopes to get some superb MO live footage that the 84 version had completely failed to do, leaving us a mixed bag of feeling at this 2 DVD set. All we can do is hope that the BBC Paris Theatre of 72 gets an official release sometime soon.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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