Montreux Cest magnifique! - a review of the Montreux Jazz Festival 1978 by Bill Henderson from BLACK MUSIC AND JAZZ REVIEW , Sept.1978.
I must admit that as I waited to board the British Airways Trident Three for Geneva en route to the last week of the Montreux Jazz Festival ,I was expecting to be perhaps a little undewhelmed by some of the performances. Unlike its contemporaneous cousins - the European jazz festivals at, for example, Nice, the Hague , or the new boy at Middlesbrough - Montreux has in recent years broadened its spectrum out with the jazz mainstream to incorporate elements from a wide range of contemporary music. Already this year there had been blues, soul, and a Brazilian night. These last five days were to be the jazzrock end of the net with the last night indeed being previewed as country rock night, with the Dixie Dregs and the Allman Brothers splinter group, Sea Level. Not exactly le jazz hot and designed, one suspects , to draw in the young punters as well as to contribute to Montreuxs current conception as an international music festival. As it turned out, there was also a Cuban contribution , so the Fest did go quite a way to living up to its name.
I was most looking forward to the Chicago AACM contingent , whove been signed up by Aristas new Novus label in the states:founding father Muhal Richard Abrams and the current name to drop, the trio AIR. Aside from them, no one in London seemed entirely sure about who I was going to see/hear. Possibly McLaughlin, Cobham, and Stanley Clarke, certainly Chrysalis venture into jazzrock, the precocious AURACLE, certainly THE BRECKER BROTHERS, and PHAROAH SANDERS. Going by recent track records, the pospects didnt seem entirely promising. In the event things turned out rather differently......
The first two nights were the CBS contingent. No Stanley Clarke, as it transpired; he hadnt made it over but some pleasant surprises. First on Wednesday night [July 19] was John McLaughlin with, yes an electric band. And more than that: good news for fans of the Mahavishnu Orchestra- theyre back ! Not the originals of course, but Johnny Macs new outfit THE ONE TRUTH BAND, are a direct clone of the Mahavork One model. And according to the man, its not just a one-off. Electric music for the mind and body is back to stay- for the foreseeable future, at least. Whether economic considerations came into the decision is a moot point and I for one am sorry at the demise of SHAKTI , but at least THE ONE TRUTH BAND are a match for any of McLaughlins previous electric incarnations. Prime contributer to this is the retention of the incredible violin virtuosity of L.Shankar from SHAKTI - by far the best violinist that McLaughlin has worked with and perfectly at home in an amplified, electronic fusion context. The remainder of the band are Stu Goldberg [keyboards], Woody [sonship] Theus [drums], and Tom Stevens [bass].
The set itself wasnt perhaps a total success [due, I suspect to lack of rehearsal], but it pointed the way to better things to come. Playing NEW YORK ON MY MIND [from ELECTRIC GUITARIST, the prototype for the ONE TRUTH] and some of the Mahavorks greatest hits [ I can never remember titles], there was also contrast in the limpid reflection of Johns duet with Shankar, TWO SISTERS , and a solo guitar spot [with Goldberg latterly filling in behind], proving that McLaughlin is the complete jazz guitarist when he wants to be. Shankar, however, to a degree stole the show, more than matching McLaughlin in dazzling digital dexterity. There was a great deal of solo space from all throughout [which did hinder the flow], -a long, round the kit affair from Theus with a rather jive sounding , cosmic lyrics recitation on top and a funky bass outing from Stevens which led to a final riff bash from the ensemble.
The drummer and the bassist, in particular, werent perhaps my ideal choice of rhythm section and didnt match Shankar of McLaughlin, but overall the ONE TRUTH BAND were fine. Again, its a return to the high-speed train electrification programme -and the retrogression bothers me a little- but still very enjoyable.
As indeed was the Cobham band. And thats quite an admission for someone who has lost faith with Cobham both on record and on stage a long time ago. There was an irony in McLaughlin opening the show to Cobham, his former sideman, but on balance Cobham probably deserved his position on the night. Certainly the band were a more cohesive , integrated unit than McLaughlins with, apart from keyboards man Tom Coster, a Southern caucus with New Orleans clarinettist Alvin Batiste and a Louisiana trio of guitarists Ray Mouton and Charles Singleton and bassist Randy Jackson. Cobham remains in the funky jazzrock mainstream [perhaps even more now than ever before with the two guitarists and only the unusual horn choice of Batistes clarinet/flute as the other frontline voice. Indeed Batiste seemed somewhat incongruous- and rather underused- in the first part of the set , but he came to be featured more later. Cobham proved himself still the master technician in his opening wind-up solo , and still purveying the patented bugaloo and power funk throughout. Perhaps this was the best band as a whole that Ive seen Cobham with , and individually they were OK too, notably in Jacksons finger-splitting octave divided solo and the two complimentary guitarists.
They were brought back for an encore in which they were joined by McLaughlin and Shankar and the percussive members of the Cuban group Ira-kere [of whom more later] in a huge, pulsating rhythmic jam.
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