In November of 1998, while in the midst of gathering up tapes for a Sony Legacy remastering and reissue of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's triumphant 1972 release Birds Of Fire, Belden came across two extra unmarked quarter inch tapes that had been lying in Columbia's Los Angeles vault. These mysterious tapes indicated that they had been recorded in London but no other information was provided. After a bit of sleuthing, Belden realized he had stumbled upon a major find.These were in fact the two-track mixes of The Lost Trident Sessions, what was to have been the Mahavishnu Orchestra's third studio album for Columbia Records.
For years, bootleggers had floated inferior copies of these fabled tapes. Some caught up in the mystique even titled their bootleg copies "The Holy Grail," an apt description of how highly this long lost music was regarded by fusion fans in general and Mahavishnu devotees in particular. Individual band members had heard rumors about these bootleg copies. Violinist Jerry Goodman had even recently seen a CD version himself. The word among connoisseurs and internet chatters was that this music was positively smoking -- another incremental leap from the incendiary Birds Of Fire. That was to be expected. The Orchestra had been constantly touring and was at the peak of its communicative powers when they slipped intoTrident Studios in London on June 25th of 1973 to record this third studio album.
As keyboardist Jan Hammer notes, a quarter of a century after the fact, "The band was really, absolutely working on all 12 cylinders at that point." The only real mystery here was, why did such powerful, scintillating and important music sit on the shelf for 26 years before finally coming out? The answer to that compelling question is as complex and confounding as the nature of politics and interpersonal relationships. In a nutshell,the members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra had differing opinions about the quality of this material. One point of view held that it was complete as it was and certainly suitable for release. Another point of view argued for additional overdubs, perhaps a string section here or there to enhance the existing material. In the course of this stalemate, the music remained in limbo until an equitable decision could be arrived at. In the interim,the grind of constant touring put further strain on the group. All these elements can easily conspire to bring about dysfunction in the ranks,as was certainly the case with the Mahavishnu Orchestra by the summer of 1973.
Meanwhile, Columbia executives were hollering for another release from the band that had made such a big splash in 1971 with The InnerMounting Flame and followed with even bigger success in 1972 with the gold-selling Birds Of Fire. Unable to expedite and deliver the unnamed third studio album, the members of Mahavishnu decided to offer up a live album tothe label. Recorded on August 5,1973 in Central Park as part of the Schaefer Festival, Between Nothingness And Eternity captures the Mahavishnu Orchestra in concert. Around this time, dissension was eroding the band from within. There had been tension at the Trident session during thatlast week of June in 1973, as road manager Elliott Sears recalls. Egos flared and arguments ensued regarding composer credits. In the two previous Mahavishnu releases, John McLaughlin was listed as sole composer, although the other members maintain that their input and contributions at thetime of the recordings merited more credit than was given. At the outset of the Trident session, Hammer, Goodman and bassist Rick Laird took a firm stand, insisting that they too be able to contribute their own compositions to the album.
As Cobham notes in retrospect, "John loved the music of Stravinsky, for example. There's a few other composers I feel he tried to emulate in avery loving way in his writing. But he also had a small group of individuals (the band members) around him that were helping those things come to light. And they also had something to say and were only trying to help, only trying to put in their two cents here and there. And it would've helped in the long run if they were given their due.
The relationship would be probably one of insurmountable levels and highly positive to this day, if that small acknowledgment was made." McLaughlin ultimately relented and the Trident session moved ahead in more diplomatic fashion by including Hammer's "Sister Andrea,"Goodman's "I Wonder" and Laird's "Steppings Tones" to complement the threeMcLaughlin compositions -- the suite-like "Dream" and the mindblowing hyper-drive jamming vehicle "Trilogy," both of which the band had been performing in concert, and his more serene "John's Song #2." Cobham, perhaps wisely, opted not to push the issue of composer credits, choosing instead to channel that side of his musical makeup into his own solo projects (his groove-oriented 1973 album for Atlantic, Spectrum, was an auspiciousdebut and has endured over time as a fusion classic).
"I was not comfortable writing for the band," Cobham explains. "I didn't want to write like John, I wanted to have my own personality come through. And at that point, it would've been painful to be put down, to have a piece of mine rejected. The rest of the guys would fight for the right to express themselves in the band. Meanwhile, I had already decided that this was not the theatre of operations to comfortably present my ideas. So I decided to parallel that by making my own record."
With a live album released and another studio album in the can, the Mahavishnu Orchestra continued to tour relentlessly. Their itinerary was exhausting -- six weeks of continuous one-nighters. It was emotionally, physically, spiritually brutal, which only added stress to the group's already fragile dynamic. "There are certain benefits to playing a lot on the road," says Laird in retrospect. "I think we were better as a band because of it. We had more unity from the experience. But one of the drawbacks that I think began to effect us, even at that point, was the fact that we were so busy traveling and it was so exhausting that there was very little time for development of the music...for new music. We never rehearsed. Rehearsals never happened. In fact, I don't think we rehearsed at all after the initial two or three months. There just wasn't any time. So I think that affected things pretty badly in terms of musical growth."
Road manager Sears confirms the problematic nature of the band's schedule. "They never went into rehearsal again because they worked so much. So whenever John would have a new composition, instead of a soundcheck being at 4:30, they'd hold it at 3:30 and try to learn the tune in an hour and maybe play it the next night." Although their musical chemistry remained intact on stage, the band was gradually unraveling on an interpersonal level.
Hammer acknowledges that there were indeed tensions within the band, just as there were tensions over the years within the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. "Oh yeah,just like a marriage, you know," says Jan. "It wasn't an easy gig for any of us," acknowledges Laird, "not just the challenge of the music, but also the interpersonal aspects of the band.We all have our own defects to deal with. None of us are beyond reproach. I myself was going through a lot of personal inner problems at the time which I'm certain had an effect on my playing and my attitude towards the group. And we were all young. That's another aspect to this. I think Jerry and Jan were only in their early 20s. And I think it all went very fast. Nat Weiss was a powerful manager with a lot of experience in the field and hemoved things forward very aggressively. And I don't think any of us realized in the beginning how fast it was going to go, that we'd be selling out major concert halls and featured top of the bill. You know, it just happened so quickly."
Earlier in 1973, John had done an album with Carlos Santana entitled Love, Devotion, Surrender, which featured both Cobham and Hammer playing drums. McLaughlin and Cobham went on the road with Santana in support of the album while Goodman, Laird and Hammer traveled to Hawaii for somewell deserved r&r. At the end of their 10-city tour, McLaughlin and Cobham would rendezvous with their Mahavishnu bandmates in the first week of September for a flight to Tokyo. It was on that long flight to Japan that tensions really came to a head. Some weeks before, McLaughlin had sat down with a writer for an extensive interview for Crawdaddy magazine. The writer also interviewed the rest of the Mahavishnu band members to get their input. Unfortunately, Laird, Goodman, Hammer and Cobham used the opportunity as a platform to vent their dissatisfaction with the one-sided nature of the group.
After reading an advance copy of the Crawdaddy cover story (November 1973 issue) on that long flight to Japan, McLaughlin had felt betrayed by his bandmates. "What they should've done," says Sears in retrospect,"was vent their frustrations in a room with the door locked with the five of them together and maybe Nat Weiss as a referee. But they did it in print, which wasn't smart. John read the transcript of the magazine on the airplane on the way to Japan, and he felt like, 'How could you say this about me?' And that was really the beginning of the end." Or as Hammer sums it up: "We got sick of each other, obviously. The band just exploded, then imploded...into smithereens." Unable to resolve the conflicts that had been brewing for so long,the five agreed to disband at the end of the year. They played two nightsin New York at Avery Fisher Hall on December 27th and 28th, then flew to Detroit to play the Masonic Auditorium on December 29th. They performed their farewell concert on December 31st at the Sport Arena in Toledo,Ohio. (Transcriber's Note: As mentioned before, this is not correct. The last concert was in Detroit on December 30, 1973-- RS)
McLaughlin instantly formed an expanded edition of the Mahavishnu Orchestra that featured Michael Walden on drums, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, Jean-Luc Ponty on violin and Gayle Moran on keyboards and vocals. Their 1974 album Apocalypse featured the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and was produced by George Martin of Beatles fame. Jerry Goodman and Jan Hammer, meanwhile, collaborated on Like Children for the newly formed Nemperor imprint under the auspices of Atlantic Records. Billy Cobham continued his solo career with more vigor, following up Spectrum in fine fashion with 1974's Crosswinds. Rick Laird, much to his dismay, returned to New York where he became a freelance bassist for hire. "I was thrust upon the New York jazz scene along with dozens of other aspiring bass players, and very quickly became very disgusted by the potentials in that field." He did a tour with Stan Getz in 1977 and the following year did a world tour with Chick Corea. Laird put out one album as a leader, Soft Focus, but put down his bassin 1982 and today is a successful photographer.
In their haste to get on with their respective careers, the membersof Mahavishnu, in essence, passed over their third studio session together. As Sears explained, "After a while, you don't think about it because it's yesterday's news. Everybody's moving on. And at a certain point, all the people that were at Columbia Records in 1973 aren't there any more. So it was forgotten. When I told the people at Sony that this album existed,they were dumb founded. They had no idea. How many people do you think who worked at Columbia Records in 1973 are still there today? No one. People move on, especially executives. So it was forgotten and buried, until I told Bob Belden about it."
Jerry Goodman went on to have a solo career, recording three albums for Private Music and touring extensively with his own group as well as with Shadowfax and the Dregs. He scored Lily Tomlin's The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe and is the featured violinist on numerous films, including Billy Crystal's Mr. Saturday Night. His violin can be heard on over 50 albums by such diverse artists as Toots Thielemans, Hall & Oates, Styx and even a reunion with McLaughlin on his album, ElectricGuitarist.
After Like Children, Hammer did two more solo albums before teaming up with Jeff Beck in 1976. Their incandescent chemistry resulted in a world tour, platinum sales for Wired and gold for Jeff Beck/Jan Hammer Group Live. In the early '80s, Hammer toured and recorded with two highly respected guitarists in Al DiMeola and Neal Schon. By the mid '80s, he delved into soundtrack work, composing for several feature films and television series. His score for the popular tv show "Miami Vice" led to a quadruple-platinum album, a #1 pop single and two Grammy Awards. In1991 he played a limited number of sold-out engagements with the Jan Hammer-Tony Williams Group and in 1993, he ventured into a brave new world of virtual reality videos by scoring "Beyond The Mind's Eye" for Miramar Productions. The ambitious project sold triple-platinum and remained on theBillboard music video charts for 125 weeks. Hammer continues to be active in both soundtracks and solo recordings.
Billy Cobham went on to thrive as a composer and bandleader, clinician and educator. He has recorded 25 albums as a leader and has toured and recorded with such notable artists as Peter Gabriel, Bob Weir, JackBruce, Larry Coryell and Gil Evans. Most recently, he has toured and recorded with the Grateful Dead off-shoot band Jazz Is Dead, featuring former Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson and Dregs keyboardist T Lavitz, andwith the Jazz Superband featuring bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Larry Carlton and saxophonist Najee. His other outlets include the fusion power trio Paradox and his latest group Focus, featuring longtime collaborator Randy Brecker on trumpet. His composition "Stratus" from the classic Spectrum is perhaps the most covered tune to come out of the fusion movement, even appearing recently as the background music on a tv adfor Victoria's Secret.
John McLaughlin has retained his position as one of the world's foremost
guitarists. After disbanding the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1975, he switched
to acoustic guitar and formed a group with South Indian master musicians
called Shakti, a scintillating hybrid of East-meets-West that actually
pioneered the world music phenomenon. Since then, John has gone backand
forth between electric guitar and acoustic guitar from his One Truth Band
to hugely successful Trio with Paco De Lucia and Al DiMeola, from a short-lived
third version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the late '80s,to a tender
acoustic guitar quartet tribute to jazz piano great BillEvans, to a swinging
organ trio with Joey DeFrancesco and the great jazz drummer Elvin Jones.
His latest electric band is The Heart of Things with electric bassist Matthew
Garrison, drummer Dennis Chambers, keyboardist JimBeard and saxophonist
Gary Thomas. He also recently reformed Shakti (with bansuri master Hariprasad
Chaurasia replacing violinist L. Shankar).
I was very happy, actually, with the lost album," says McLaughlin in retrospect. "Of course, by the time we finished that recording, there was a lot of dissonance in the band, discontent...just really shit. What a shame. But I have a tendency to forget the bad things. I remember the good things. And we made some unbelievable music. We had some nights that were colossal...just amazing, phenomenal! And I've got that...these memories in my mind. And I'm happy with that." "The personal negatives that we were involved with are of much less importance than the actual music, which survives us," adds Hammer."That's really all that matters."