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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Between Nothingness & Eternity  CD (album) cover

BETWEEN NOTHINGNESS & ETERNITY

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.71 | 165 ratings

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classicalgasp
5 stars When I was seven years old, I had become a bit antsy with relying on whatever albums and tapes my older siblings would have lying around. There was a bit of luck now and then when I'd get the cast-off album that didn't find favor with them - The Beatles 'Revolver', Iron Butterfly's 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', Blood Sweat and Tears self-titled second album, the UTTERLY underrated Apollo 100 'Joy' album (in it's entireity) - but as the seventies started to middle-out, the luck started to sputter-out and I'd be left with stale titles from John Denver or Helen Reddy (egads!) and the like. Something had to be done, so I decided it was time to starve myself by skipping lunch and then saving up that school lunch money from Mom to buy what I REALLY wanted to hear. First came Zep's 'Houses Of The Holy', then came Grand Funk Railroad being an American band. On Friday nights, after a grudgingly long elementary school week, I'd struggle to stay awake long enough to catch In Concert or Midnight Special, and on one of those Friday nights in 1973, I saw Mahavishnu Orchestra and they blew my little mind. So I starved myself some more and when the opportunity came to visit Dart Drug while my Mom was shopping, I was determined to buy 'Birds Of Fire' - alas, they did not have it in stock on their pegboards - but they did have 'Between Nothingness And Eternity' - and that money was burning a hole in my pocket, I couldn't go home without an LP! So, I bought it.

I played it on my crappy little kiddy system until the grooves bled out nasty white plastic shavings. But my ears and mind earned every little microgram of those shavings and the hundreds of spins it received before it was unplayable were crucial in my life - utterly invaluable. I feel blessed and lucky and thankful every day that I owned this album as a youngster - formative influence is an understatement.

I can still remember the feeling in my gut coming home on the school bus, the anticipation that the second I got home I would put the needle on side one, a couple of dudes would yell out some unintelligable words and a gong would be struck. A crowd would cheer. The gong was my cue that a journey was about to take place. So begins the Trilogy. Since I was already generally obsessed with 'Houses Of The Holy' and it's opening 'Song Remains The Same' (which in retrospect was proggy in it's own way, though I didn't realize it then), the Trilogy certainly shares a similar rhythmic quirkiness that completely appealed (appeals!) to me. Mahavishnu Orchestra were taking the whole dynamic thing of loud to quiet, busy to subdued, to this whole other level for me (and this was long before the Pixies! ha). And, hey, where's the singer?? There were just so many musical concepts that this album opened me up to - but it all boils down to the fact that this thing ROCKS, it absolutely smokes from start to finish. I was entranced by the structure of the Trilogy, it got faster and faster as it moved along, McLaughlin's guitar and Hammer's keyboard seemed to be talking to each other, were they having a conversation? Which side was Billy Cobham supporting? Or were they all just following his lead like a pied piper of tempo? Why am I feeling a strange sensation in my chest and feeling light-headed too? This is music I could not explain or fully understand, but it was music I certainly felt with every fiber of my being. And I was addicted to this album like a drug. When the audience cheers after this first track, I feel that too, it's like I'm at this concert (and obviously, I'd never been to a live concert yet).

The following (and only other) track on side one is 'Sister Andrea', a funky little jam that felt like a pay- off or reward for experiencing the Trilogy. But there's something dark and decadent (and delicious) going on in the middle. John McLaughlin's solo on this used to sort of scare me, and I liked the feeling of being scared by it. I always remember feeling some of it was out of tune, and it'd pull me and bend me and make me feel all weird inside. But I always knew the comfort of that funky jam bit would come back to save me, comfort me again - only to be followed by Jerry Goodman's demonic and hairy electric violin - possibly the strangest sound I'd heard up to that point (except for maybe that weird bit in 'Whole Lotta Love' that sounded like a strange cemetary orgy of the dead or something - that used to scare the hell out of me too as a kid). Then, back again to the funky comfortable place where Jan Hammer is going to get all freaky with the Moog. How on earth could he play that fast, I'd think. That's probably the biggest impression I really got initially from this album - how could all these people play their instruments so FAST! There's also a bit in this song where they'll be laying down the basic riff and these stabs out of nowhere come like a burp or a knife (it's different every time it happens in the song). Then a single gong stroke and side one concludes. I'd always be a little sad because I knew that all that was left was side two and...

'Dream' - with it's opening, so gentle and precious. On top of a simple bass figure based on an octave with a recurring and simply placed electric piano chord, McLaughlin once again opens up his soul and talks with his guitar, sometimes buddied up with Goodman's violin like brothers in arms until Goodman takes flight on his own and peers above the clouds as a lookout for the rest of the group - and he sees something that's definitely exciting him and juicing up the other guys. As with 'Trilogy', the way these guys shift tempo is swift and sure-footed. Dream's tempo change comes about five minutes into the track and it's Jan Hammer again on the Fender Rhodes just straight tearing it up. Back then I didn't realize it because I didn't hear Miles Davis until more than a decade later, but this is certainly in the Miles vein of improvisation. (Imagine yourself laughing at me when I finally did hear Bitches Brew and said 'wow, this sounds like Mahavishnu! HA!). There comes a breakdown with just McLaughlin and Hammer again, just doing some amazing interplay that's so beautiful and heartfelt and it's all so incredibly fast and intricate and woven together like a Persian rug, or maybe more honestly like a flying magic carpet. About halfway through 'Dream', Cobham drops another motif of solid funk down for the others to attach themselves to and we're off on a whole new adventure - Goodman seems to not want to come willingly and his violin screams about the wonderland they'd just left as if he's saying let's go back man!, and there's a little bit of stopping and starting, a sense of confusion, things get more dizzying, and yet again we're going faster and faster and the group decides to take stock of where they're at and look to McLaughlin to pull things together, which he does aided ably by Billy Cobham's tight syncopation and tasteful comments from Rick Laird's bass. This section of the track culminates with some seriously blistering lines from McLaughlin which in turn lend themselves to something that's bluesier than anything else on the album. Perhaps all this out-of-body flying around the astral plane has revealed something about the importance of roots to this journey - and so, after a strange bit of repetition that seems to comment on reluctance to abort the trip, we're led to a jazzy keyboard contemplation about what's been learned in the past 20 minutes - McLaughlin spikes in some plaintive distortion, mostly single note until he goes again into the stratosphere to pay homage to the spirits that guided their way and helped them safely back home. A gong is struck with respect and awe, bringing us back full circle to where we begin and end, somwhere between nothingness and eternity.

This album is beyond essential - it is the essence of music itself, and it's a document of the possibilities that music creates. It demonstrates that if you infinitely look forward, what you're eventually going to see is the back of your head. I notice that this album, among people who rate it not just here but in all forums of critical discussion, doesn't always get a lot of respect and is rarely deemed as Mahavishnu Orchestra's crowning glory, but those that have been moved by it, are often PROFOUNDLY moved by it. I count myself among the latter. Perhaps because I came to this album as a child and I allowed it to have a formative effect on me - which is the thing that makes me feel blessed and lucky to have been exposed to it at that time in my life. I can only hereby dedicate my musical life and gratefulness of musical experience to this album. To me, it's THAT important. Your milage may vary.

classicalgasp | 5/5 |

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