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You know you know
on 24 October 2012
This box set amounts to the most complete (officially released) collection of music from the original version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the band assembled by guitarist John McLaughlin in mid-1971. They produced two studio albums (their attempt at a third finally appeared in 1999) and a live set, which was released shortly before they broke up at the end of 1973. Their technical ability, detailed polyrhythmic compositions (most of which were credited to McLaughlin) and powerful live performances garnered a following which belied the relative inaccessibility of their pioneering instrumental jazz-rock.
Fans already know all this history, and will already have the previously-released albums, so the real questions here concern the new material contained in this set. This consists of a sparkling 15 minute version of "The Noonward Race" from the band's performance at the Mar Y Sol festival on April 3, 1972 (which has previously been released on a compilation, and has been in unofficial circulation for some time), plus a completely new set (lasting just over an hour) of other tracks from the same concerts that produced the "Between Nothingness and Eternity" live album. The band's real forte was in live performance; they toured constantly, and their setlist was completely restricted to the material from the studio albums, so by the time their live show was recorded near the end of their career, they were able to make the execution of this complicated music sound effortless. To have these official live versions of these tracks (as opposed to bootleg-ed versions of varying quality) after such a long time is a real joy, and they perfectly complement the much-loved studio versions.
The packaging of this set is quite nice, with little cardboard sleeves for the discs, and a brief booklet (including some remarks about the band from McLaughlin) giving some recording information. Although it seems to be difficult to purchase in the UK at the moment, I'd recommend perseverance in trying to get hold of it, for the sake of the blistering live performances from this great band from long ago.