MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA; "Live at Montreux '84/'74" (Eagle Vision USA, two discs, $19.98)

This is a nice concept. Take a seminal group and film it at a world-renowned jazz festival one year and then film that same band 10 years later at the same festival. That way, the fans can compare the performances, the musicians (if there are any lineup changes) and track the progression. The viewers can also compare the clothing styles.

With "Live at Montreux," John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra does just that with gig flicks of the band playing that seminal jazz festival in Switzerland.

Back in 1974, McLaughlin's band featured McLaughlin on guitar, flutist Bob Knapp, trumpeter Steve Frankovich, organist Gayle Moran, violinists Jean-Luc Ponty, Steve Kindler and Carol Shive, also Marsha Westbrook, cellist Phillip Hirschi, bassist Ralphe Armstrong and drummer Michael Walden.

Multi-instrumentalist Jan Hammer and drummer Billy Cobham had left prior to the '74 gig. But the intensity of the music was, as the DVD shows, still on the edge. While this performance leaned more toward a progressive-rock feel, the finesse is improvisational jazz.

"Wings of Karma" and "Hymn to Him" are the only songs shown on the '74 DVD, but it's far from noodling. The musicians find the zone and make inspiring runs, while keeping it loose.

There are audio-only bonus tracks on the '74 disc that include "Power of Love," "Smile of the Beyond," "Vision Is a Naked Sword" and "Sanctuary," adding to the mythical status of the band.

On the 1984 disc, Mahavishnu featured McLaughlin, saxophonist Bill Evans, keyboardist Michael Forman, bassist Jonas Hellborg and drummer Danny Gottlieb.

The set list was more structured, per se, with 12 songs, including "Radio Activity," "East Side, West Side" and "Mitch Match."

In comparison, the '84 disc is more refined in its sound and technique. But there is still that kinetic energy that flows from one musician to the other. The individual musicians start a thread of notes, and the others join and weave their own parts into the mix.

"Live at Montreux" is a cool little concept that chronicles Mahavishnu Orchestra in two interesting phases and, surprisingly, the clothing styles aren't as extreme as one would think.


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