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Mahavishnu Orchestra - The Inner Mounting Flame CD (album) cover


Mahavishnu Orchestra


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.27 | 887 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review the new one, The Inner Mounting Flame, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1971


The original line of The Mahavishnu Orchestra is clearly one of the most instrumentally talented bands I've had the pleasure of hearing, with the excellent John McLaughlin (guitar), Jerry Goodman (violin) and Billy Cobham (drums, percussion) standing out particularly. This, their debut offering, is a fine example of simply how much they could achieve with a unique cross of instrumental fire, improvisational talent and clever arrangement. The big highlight is the awe-inspiring opener, but the rest of the album holds up very strongly. It is weakened just a little, in my eyes, by the more jazz/solo-dominated pieces, which could perhaps have been done with a little more depth, but overall a fantastic album, a pioneering mix of jazz, rock, blues, classical, funk, you name it, and an essential piece in any self-respecting music fan's collection.

The opener, Meeting Of The Spirits, is comfortably my favourite ever Mahavishnu Orchestra piece, and one of my all-time favourite songs (probably top 20 or so... I don't keep track, but it's there). It showcases everything that made the band great: splintering, blistering solos from McLaughlin and Goodman, a swallowing hammond part, creative, lightning-speed, wonderfully thick and chaotic drumming from Billy Cobham, echoed themes and shared violin-bass lines, an insistent tug from the guitar, new touches of piano or violin you only hear after the fifteenth or twentieth listen. Rick Laird's bass also takes a particularly shining moment. The whole feel is incredible, gripping from every angle, creating a vibe of Indian-temple-fires-and-spirits-and-incense with intense bursts of rock guitar, a jazzy Jan Hammer e-piano solo over a thick background, and even one vision of near-classical beauty. More than music. A physical/psychological/spiritual emotion. Worth the price of the album alone.

The following Dawn is one of the more jazzy pieces, opening with a sort of minimalistic Hammer/Laird background over which McLaughlin and Goodman drift with lightning-paced, short solos and brief bits of full-band-coordination. After two and and a half or so minutes, the piece suddenly picks up with a funky keyboard part and assertive guitar jabs backing a bit of phenomenal violin-work. The original theme returns again towards the end, developed by a bit of low-key Cobham drumming, and the overall impression is highly impressive, with a sort of high-density-low-density-high-density thing going on parallel to a low-intensity-high-intensity-low-intensity thing. Interesting stuff.

Noonward Race is more in the jazz vein, definitely, with a relatively few repeated themes, obvious occasions where everyone is taking their solos (Hammer comes off particularly well), but an insidious high-quality funky groove from Laird/Cobham underpins the whole thing. Cobham, excellent as always, shows his ability to change a drum part's nature while keeping it very close. A bit more wandering and maybe the least tight piece on the album, but nonetheless excellent.

The lush acoustic piece A Lotus On Irish Streams is a show of the rather more tender side of TMO, with personal violin and McLaughlin's unique acoustic stylings, sounding almost like a sitar at times. Laird latches onto and prompts McLaughlin's acoustic lines. Particularly satisfying are Jan Hammer's lovely piano runs and occasional classical-sounding motif within the more liberated, but very appreciative, jazz soloing of the whole piece. The mood, the development, the soloing talent and the wonderful moments of unity within the freedom and taste of the whole piece provide plenty to chew on and digest. Endearing, and excellent stuff. Absolutely great piano solo from Hammer.

An intense Cobham drum intro takes us straight onto Vital Transformation, a blistering whole-band workout with charged thick solos from McLaughlin and Hammer, and an entirely unrelenting but very well-directed drum part. It places emphasis on keeping a strong riff or rhythm going throughout, with all five members at some point drifting down to the rhythm part, but never staying complacent, launching into a solo, a rhythm-altering jab or a gradual communal effort to change the rhythm ideas every now and then. A bit of versatility and complete changes are included for effect. Only really weakened at all by the rather light ending, but nonetheless a triumph of drumming and great stuff.

The Dance Of Maya, a sort of tribal blues/jazz thing, opens with a tense, challenging and gradually expanding guitar part, which builds up slowly, as the rhythm gradually becomes a little less ferocious and a little more upbeat every time the fierce guitar thing subsides, and Goodman dazzles on violin, and suddenly, the rhythm becomes less ferocious and more upbeat and is a BLUES! I mean, ingenious introduction... hard listening, definitely, but so, so rewarding... A BLUES, man!! Hammer offers a bit of blues piano, Goodman a violin solo, McLaughlin something which is somehow too rapid and growling to be blues, but nonetheless works well with the background, which seems to be gradually rocking up again, slowly brutalising the general bluesness of it, until a repeat of the blues idea with McLaughlin now both helping and hindering, going gradually back to the tense guitar but also whirling around within the rhythm. The whole tribal tension is restored slowly, with a blare of hammond and a violin solo before the archetypal fiery blues conclusion coupled with a cheeky guitar thrum on the end. Extremely accomplished.

You Know You Know is maybe a bit subtler and more downbeat, with a weird guitar, violin, bass thing under an initial drum solo and then a wonderfully subdued and unusual piano solo. The slow, careful rhythm has a gradual-revelation thing before McLaughlin's terse, unanticipated guitar stabs begin firing things up a bit. A dash more of basically drum soloing brings us to the end. I mean, really, the thing to remark, is that this doesn't sound like any other 'soft' piece I own. It's got aggressive bursts, but they never even really encroach on the softness of the song... yet are absolutely crucial to it. Very interesting.

Awakening, the closer, is, expectedly, a bit of a solo showcase, with a Cobham near-solo intro, a rapid, high-energy riff thing, bursts of whole-band-just-playing-as-fast-as-possible-but-pulling-it-off-very-suavely, solos from Hammer, McLaughlin, Cobham and Goodman inside the main piece. The rhythm section does some quite interesting things changing around as the instrumentalists are cycled in and out of the soloing spotlight, but Laird's solid presence and unusual twists on the bass part have to be heard. The conclusion, with a spiralling McLaughlin guitar, screams to be heard.

All in all, an excellent, interesting album entirely worthy of the term 'fusion'. Cobham is fantastic, the whole band are simply so damn good at soloing and finding a tasteful context in which to do it that the occasions where maybe the compositions aren't as solid are nonetheless very enjoyable. Preferable, in my opinion, to the following Birds Of Fire, and while it's not quite 'flawless' (Noonward Race and Vital Transformation are weaker than the rest of the album, in my view, though by no means bad), it is a masterpiece of high-quality, high-intensity jazz-rock. Essential.

Rating: Five Stars, 13/15 Favourite Track: Meeting Of The Spirits

Edit: dropped to a four with a big general ratings harshenatificatorifying. Basically, there are albums I love noticeably more, and I'm not really the person who lives and breathes jazz rock - I love it, but it's not what makes my spine tingle all too much. This album does that at times, but not so much at others.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |


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