The Mahavishnu Orchestra/The Lost Trident Sessions

By Brian L. Knight


I first came across jazz guitarist John McLaughlin when I lived on
Martha’s Vineyard during the summer of 1989. My friend happened across
an abandoned VW bus, that had been parked along side the road for a
couple of weeks. Our first reaction to our discovery was that we had a
free bus on our hands. We quickly devised a plan, in which we figured
that the only problem with the van was its battery. We bought a battery
with what little money we had and cruised down to the van to try out our
amateurish approach. We installed the battery but the van still did not
start. It was at this point that local police cruiser informed us that
we were breaking the law and that our activities should immediately
cease. Since one of our friends had already gotten in trouble with the
law (donuts on the golf course will do it every time), we gave up our
visions of owning a purple VW bus.

Personally, I could not leave the bus without a memento, so we searched
the van for some goodies. Some of the fine items we procured were a
machete, random Chinese coins and a somewhat beaten up record
collection. One of the albums that arose from this collection was Love,
Devotion, Supreme by Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin. Being a typical
high school graduate, I knew "Evil Ways" and "Black Magic Woman", so I
knew that a Carlos Santana album was a good find and at the time, I
didn’t really care whom John McLaughlin was. When I went home, and
listened to the opening track, an electrified version of John Coltrane’s
"A Love Supreme", my wind was immediately blown away by the two
guitarists trading incredible licks.

In retrospect, my discovery during this not so innocent summer had quite
an impact on my musical future. For one, the album eventually turned me
onto jazz. After listening to versions of "Naima" and "A Love Supreme",
the floodgates for infinite Coltrane listening were wide open (I am
still going at it ten years later). More importantly, the unearthing of
John McLaughlin would have a tremendous effect on me. >From Love,
Devotion, Surrender, I looked to McLaughlin’s solo albums, his work with
Bitches Brew era Miles Davis and ultimately his own project – the
Mahavishnu Orchestra.

For years prior to my summer escapades, I had pilfered my older sister’s
record collection for the works of the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa and
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. During these annual raids, I would often
see albums by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but I wrote them off for exactly
what the name of the band sounds like – religious big band music. I
couldn’t have been further from reality. After my Martha’s Vineyard
discovery, I spent my college years immersed in the Mahavishnu
Orchestra. Through albums like Birds of Fire, Inner Mounting Flame and
Between Nothingness and Eternity, I was turned onto the searing electric
leads of McLaughlin, the polyrhythmic and aggressive drumming of Billy
Cobham, the hillbilly gone psychedelic violin playing of Jerry Goodman,
the steady rhythm of bassist Rick Laird and the "Gee this a lot better
than the Miami Vice Theme" keyboards of Jan Hammer. The music itself was
the ultimate in a jazz-fusion experience – the compositions, time
signatures and technical dexterity belonged to jazz but the music rocked
out beyond belief.

For two studio and one live albums, the Mahavishnu Orchestra maintained
this all-star lineup and then broke up. A couple years later, McLauglin
reformed the band but with a completely different lineup. The new
Mahavishnu Orchestra, albeit better talented than any music around at
the time, did not capture the same energy of those first three albums.

After an intense Mahavishnu/McLauglin stage, the band/guitarist left my
lexicon for quite some time. Besides a random Hendrix/McLauglin jam
session bootleg that landed in my lap and a phenomenal concert in
Burlington’s Flynn Theater with McLaughlin, drummer Dennis Chambers and
organist Joey DeFransesco, I barely listened to Mahavishnu or
McLaughlin. The artists would often revisit me in other forms – for
instance, drummer Billy Cobham’s work with Jazz is Dead or Jan Hammer’s
collaborations with Jeff Beck. McLauglin’s work on Miles Davis albums
such as Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way, his equally frantic acoustic
guitar playing in his Indian band, Shakti and his fusion playing in Tony
William’s Lifetime are all instances in which I have since been
captivated by his prowess

My Mahavishnu drought came to an end during the fall of 1999 with
Columbia/Legacy’s release of The Lost Trident Sessions. When producer
Bob Belden was searching through Columbia’s archives to re-master Birds
of Fire, he came across two extra and unknown Mahavishnu Orchestra
tapes. It was like Indiana Jones finding the Ark of the Covenant. After
some quick research, it was revealed that the tapes came from a studio
session dating June 25, 1973 from London’s Trident Studios. The sessions
were originally slated to be the third Mahavishnu Orchestra studio
album, but the band opted to release the live Between Nothingness and
Eternity, a live performance from New York City’s Central Park, instead.
Soon afterwards, the original incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra
felt the pressures of the road and the band was no more. Along with a
new lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra came a memory lapse of the tape’s
existence.

For any fan of Mahavishnu Orchestra, imagine where Birds of Fire and
Inner Mounting Flame left off and The Lost Trident Sessions take it from
there. The music possesses the classic Mahavishnu blend of Indian music,
instrumental virtuosity and transitions from jazz serenity to full blown
rocking chaos. What makes The Lost Trident Sessions differ from previous
Mahavishnu albums is the presence of compositions written by somebody
else than McLaughlin. The Lost Trident Sessions features Jerry Goodman’s
"I Wonder", Jan Hammer’s "Sister Andrea" and Rick Laird’s "Stepping
Tones". John McLaughlin contributed "Dream", "John’s Song #2" and
"Trilogy". This collaborative effort to the "third" album most likely
was the largest contributing factor to the tape’s disappearance after
the breakup of the band.

Now, like a gift falling out of the sky, the never heard before (unless
you are a lucky owner of a poor sounding bootleg) sounds of the classic
lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra are available to hear for all. It is
like opening a time capsule and listening to the band for the first
time. Thanks to the Lost Trident Sessions, ten years after hearing my
first McLaughlin lick, my draw is still dropping to the ground in
McLaughlin amazement.