The Mahavishnu Project

Live Bootleg

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Live Bootleg Review

by Bruce Eder

This CD, which is titled Live Bootleg but is legitimate, features the work of the Mahavishnu Project, a New Jersey-based quintet dedicated to keeping the music of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra alive in concert performances. The idea of a Mahavishnu Orchestra "ghost band" seem silly at first. Yet after a listen, all of the possibilities for the repertory left behind by the band on Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire, and what did seem a premature breakup back in 1973, seem to unfold in front of the listener with the performance of this group. And as a "ghost band," they've licked the one major problem that afflicted (and ultimately destroyed) the original group, the parceling out of compositions. Guitarist John McLaughlin kept a strict monopoly on the writing within the group, which became a serious source of friction among the other four members -- the Mahavishnu Project also, naturally, does McLaughlin material here, since that's the totality of the legacy they've chosen to revive, but as McLaughlin himself is not the one imposing this and, more to the point, since they're admirers and all of them are working from his music as a jumping-off point, there are no ego problems in this setup. And, like the original group's work, there's room for everyone to shine on this repertory -- guitarist Pete McCann's work building on McLaughlin's legacy is fresh enough to attract new interest in his approach; similarly, violinist Todd Reynolds goes places that Jerry Goodman never had a chance to, and drummer Gregg Bendian plays like a reincarnation of the Billy Cobham of years back, and keyboardist Steve Hunt and bassist Stephan Crump find their spaces to work, in directions that Jan Hammer and Rick Laird, respectively, never left behind on record. Some listeners will inevitably find fault with this sort of record or performing venture, but they do take the music places that the group to which they're devoted never managed to reach, and the results are sometimes surprising, in terms of freshness, as on "Birds of Fire" or "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters," and those two pieces aren't even from the group's main jumping-off point, Inner Mounting Flame.

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