Thursday, August 04, 2016

'Mahavishnu Levitated Me Out Of My Seat, And I Never Really Came Back Down'

When politics makes me want to slash my wrists, I write about music, which prompts me to relate a most extraordinary moment waay back in early 1973 when several friends (then roommate and already great drummer John DiGiovanni among them) and I set out for the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. 
The headliner was Weather Report, and the warm-up act a group called Mahavishnu Orchestra, about whom we knew nothing.  The deeply powerful opening notes from McLaughlin's trailblazing ensemble levitated me out of my upper balcony seat, and I never really came back down.  Weather Report was in its heyday and great in its own right, but Mahavishnu (with McLaughlin on double-neck guitar, Billy Cobham on drums, Rick Laird on bass guitar, Jan Hammer on keyboards and synthesizer, and Jerry Goodman on violin) was transcendental.   
I've never sought to recapture the moment, but recently heard a recording of a long talked-about classic show,  Mahavishnu Orchestra at the Berkeley (Calif.) Community Theater in November 1972, a few weeks before we caught up with the band in Philadelphia.   
Well, for a mere five bucks, you can download a recording of this extraordinary two hour-plus performance by the pioneers of jazz-rock fusion in their infancy.  I have long believed that fusion as a whole included a lot of incredibly mediocre music, much of it because of over reliance on the synthesizer to paper over so-so musicianship, but the fluid virtuosity of Mahavishnu Orchestra continues to excite and inspire nearly 45 years on.

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