Teetering in what can be only be described as a no-man's land between rock and jazz, Mahavishnu Orchestra occupied the highest echelons of neither, but were instead content to blaze their own trail. While nobody, not even the band knew where they were headed, with constant personnel changes and musical tangents, the world’s premier jazz-fusion group carved an inimitable niche throughout the 1970's.

Founder John McLaughlin had played with jazz greats - including the great Miles Davis – before embarking on his own solo odyssey in 1971. Playing the electric guitar, McLaughlin was joined by a revolving cast of musicians. Included here are live shows from two very different incarnations of the band. In 1974 the group play a live, immediate performance. Even this thought is the second incarnation of the band, MVO2 are they are known. The originally line-up had splintered only a year before. This show is mirrored with a performance from 1984, recorded during the group’s brief, failed reunion. Entirely different line-ups are present in both shows, with McLaughlin the only constant.

Both were recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival - one of the world's most prestigious musical festivals anywhere in the world – but capture different incarnations of the band. The first is a raw, experimental show, filled with free flowing ideas and very few musical boundaries. McLaughlin is joined by Bob Knapp (flute, percussion) Steve Frankovitch (horns), Gayle Moran (organ, vocals), Lean-Luc Ponty (violin), Steve Kindler (violin) Carol Shive (violin) Marsha Westbrook (sax), Phillip Hirschi (cello) Ralphe Armstrong (bass) and Micheal Walden (drums).

The spirit of this first event, while freewheeling, is experimental and virtually bellicose. Not only is the band extremely capable and versatile, they want you to know as much. They lack all commercial interest, but seem to be aiming instead to be viewed as the most ostentatious and creative band on the planet. For a while this holds and it is possible to enjoy the group as the spectacle they were. But while they never put a foot wrong in terms of the music they play, there is a failure to connect with the audience; this is a presentation of skill and nothing else. It is impossible to empathise and consequently enjoy.

In 1975, soon after this show was recorded the band would break up as their front man's dual interests in Eastern religion and playing acoustic guitar took precedence. The group's reunion was brief during the 1980's and featured an entirely different line-up. This time McLaughlin is joined by Bill Evans (sax), Mitchell Foreman (keyboards), Jonas Hellborg (bass) and Danny Gottlieb (drums). The show is stripped back and professional, but adds little to the group's earlier incarnation. In any case only one album was released with this line-up, the self titled 'Mahavishnu'.

The 1984 show is cooler and more relaxed. The aggressive confrontation of the earlier show has gone, and the group now seem to be more content with their work. Electronic textures have integrated their way into the sound and there is less emphasis on immediate virtuosity. The group is still progressive, but seem to lack the need to really drive their message home. It is work like this that ultimately gives fusion a bad name. The tempo is restrained, the atmosphere a little indulgent and the message is eventually lost somewhere among the haze.

This could be called genius in a very special sense. No other individuals outside of this time and place could have created these sounds. They will live long in the halls of musical history. But the work is also aggressively esoteric; inaccessible to all but the most hardened fans. While there is certainly freedom, passion and drive here, very few viewers will be able to comprehend what they behold. This is not a product catering for a new audience; it is designed for those with a minute eye for detail to revel in what they know so well.

McLaughlin personally remastered the original tapes, and there is an obvious labour of love behind the work. This is more of a document of a brief moment in history, however, than a method of entertainment. It is difficult to imagination a situation where it is necessary to compare two incarnations of a jazz fusion band from forty years ago with anything other than a searching academic understanding. Brilliant for those in the know, virtually useless for everybody else.

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