Guitarist Jeff Richman was put in charge. He produced the album, arranged the tunes and even played. He hired an incredible backing band to support and augment the soloists, who recorded their parts later, consisting of drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Kai Eckhardt and keyboardist Mitch Forman. All three have the advantage of having played with John McLaughlin before—so they have some idea of his sensibilities.
To have such superb musicians tackle McLaughlin’s advanced compositions is major news. But, the fact that Jerry Goodman, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist, agreed to appear on four tracks is mind-blowing! No other violinist sounds quite like him and his presence gives the album an extra shot of credibility. Mahavishnu fans will be thrilled to hear Jerry’s violin on two pieces from the second Mahavishnu Orchestra.
There are dangers inherent in any tribute to The Mahavishnu Orchestra. These were musicians of such high caliber that an imitation of them could prove to be highly embarrassing. The key is to interpret the MO—not to mimic it. Very few musicians can do this at the highest levels. Gregg Bendian’s Mahavishnu Project has been successfully touring with this music for several years. It takes a lot of work and a pure understanding of the music to do this.
On this CD Richman’s arrangements are well thought out and structurally sound. The elements that make them “Mahavishnu-like” drive the tunes and leave spaces to be filled by each soloist. Each guitarist attacks the music differently. This increases the sonic variety of the album and allows for some comparative analysis. One would think that since one of the original band’s greatest assets was its interplay, that overdubbing solos could prove to be quite limiting. Luckily these issues appear quite minor on the final product. Perhaps this is because these are one-off performances that stand on their own and do not have to face the pressures of continued expectations.
The CD covers eight McLaughlin compositions spread through the first five Mahavishnu Orchestra albums. There are two additional pieces not officially associated with the Mahavishnu Orchestra of the seventies. Richman himself plays on Jazz, which is from the 1984 Mahavishnu album. John Abercrombie stars on McLaughlin’s Follow your heart, which appeared pre-Mahavishnu Orchestra on McLaughlin’s classic My goal’s beyond.
Steve Lukather opens up the tribute with a rollicking Birds of fire. Propelled by the power of Colaiuta’s drumming and Eckhardt’s throbbing bassline, Lukather lets nothing hold him back. He is followed by an angular Mike Stern on Can’t stand your funk and Steve Morse’s energetic romp on Celestial terrestrial commuters. Jimmy Herring’s take on Meeting of the spirits features a lighter intro before the theme kicks in. Richman’s skittering solo on Jazz gives it a more rockish feel than the original.
Perhaps closest in spirit to the original Orchestra is Frank Gambale’s turn on Dawn. Gambale captures the building drama of the composition in his use of tension and release. He is aided in a fantastic way by the appearance of Goodman, who played on the original.
Warren Haynes and Jerry Goodman perform Lila’s dance from Visions of the Emerald Beyond. The son of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Inner Mounting Flame’s: Dance of Maya, Dance is noteworthy enough for Hayne’s performance, but to hear Goodman play the Jean Luc Ponty part will be very significant to MO aficionados.
Faith is handled rather ably by Dave Fiuczynski while Gregg Howe also answers the bell on the rave-up Dance of Maya.
Tacked onto the end of this compilation is John Abercrombie’s performance of the classic Follow your heart. This is a beautifully executed version. Abercrombie’s playing is absolutely stunning. Richman’s arrangement changes the character of the piece in a new and exciting way building to a pleasing climax. Kai Eckhardt also contributes one of the most impressive melodic bass solos one is ever going to hear.
Mitch Forman’s contributions to this tribute are not to be overlooked. He is one of the most important keyboard players in jazz in the last twenty years. Yet, he remains relatively unsung. His solo opportunities are full of invention.
While not every moment in every tune captures the original fire of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse: A Fusion Guitar Tribute is quite worthy of its honoree. John McLaughlin’s compositions combined with the musical power of the musicians of the Mahavishnu Orchestra present a true test for any musician- and especially guitar players. All those involved with this production should take pride in their effort and the results.
allaboutjazz.com, July 12th 2005