The Mahavishnu Orchestra: This Century's Classical Music?
For Bendian, putting a band together to play this music was a dream come true. Bendian, who has had classical training, views the music as a sort of "unique form of chamber music" and he considers it to be "some of the most important music of the 20th century". While the electric sound may not fit into contemporary classical parameters, the approach certainly does.
In addition to Bendian, the band includes Pete McCann on guitar, Steve Hunt on keyboards, Stephan Crump on bass and Rob Thomas on violin. All of these musicians have played with the jazz greats, from Pat Metheny and Ornette Coleman to even the original Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer, Bill Cobham. They all seem to approach the music with the same reverence as Bendian's.
The Mahavishnu Project honors McLaughlin's compositions by highlighting the dramatic moments associated with the original pieces, while adding its own skilled improvisational parts, rather than attempting to copy the music note for note. In fact, while the original band tended to feature each player's skills by upping the sound in the mix as they soloed, the MP seems to have adopted a group sound approach. This gives the band sort of a modern jam band sound that should appeal to the younger fans that will be discovering this music for the very first time.
For now, the Mahavishnu Project is focusing on the Orchestra's first three albums. In fact, it has even played the albums on stage straight through as if they were classical suites. Could this become a trend? It looks more and more like it.
It has not been unusual over the years for jazz stars to interpret classical music pieces. It hasn't even been out of the ordinary for some classical players, such as Andre Previn and Itzhak Perlman, to try their hands at jazz. But it is very difficult to find any examples of jazz compositions that have been treated with the respect reserved for classical music. Some of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's music may have reached that point. There are some who believe the late Frank Zappa's compositions qualified for such an honor as well. But a lot of Zappa's music was intentionally humorous or silly. Those are hardly the qualities that the classical world holds dear. The compositions from the Mahavishnu Orchestra were serious minded efforts.
There is much consternation going on about the future of recorded music. This anxiety is especially a problem in the insular communities of jazz and classical music. However, we can always count on creative minds to produce great art and for others to eventually discover and honor it. Perhaps the future and savior of some jazz music is for it to become the next classical music. If that is to be the case, we could start in worse places than with the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
John McLaughlin @ All About Jazz