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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds Of Fire CD (album) cover

BIRDS OF FIRE

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.36 | 857 ratings

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Trotsky
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Birds Of Fire is Mahavishnu's follow-up to the ground breaking The Inner Mounting Flame, and if anything, it's an even better album. Even if the shock-value of the musicians' brilliance has diminished, the band seems more balanced (ie, less million-notes a minute solos from guitarist John McLaughlin and keyboardist Jan Hammer's presence is more noticable) and the compositions are more varied.

Not that you'd tell from the opening title track though. It's basically got more of the same, heavy rock jamming that coloured Inner Mounting Flame, with fiery playing by both violinist Jerry Goodman and McLaughlin. Although I think Goodman generally shows more taste in his soloing, this song contains one of McLaughlin's best solo spots and I still think Billy Cobham's drumming is outstanding in a group of titans. Miles Beyond is a more eclectic piece though. It starts off unbelievably cool with Hammer leading on electric piano, but then with a crash, McLaughlin and Goodman take over with some heavy soloing which is then followed by some great acoustic picking ... it takes some getting used to, but overall the piece is pretty awesome.

Celestial Terrestrial Commuters is another one of those rockers where Goodman and McLaughlin spew forth one fiery line after another, although on this track they actually interact more. The 21 second Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love is obviously not a substantial piece but Thousand Island Park is a stunning acoustic duet starring McLaughlin and Hammer. One of the group's best ever pieces, its starts off in reflective mode before each player shows his true genius with some delectable runs. It's definitely the highlight of this album as far as I'm concerned, even if One Word turns out to be more representative of the band's overall style.

Hope is a brief sweeping piece that starts off pretty interestingly but never really goes anywhere. One Word is the prog-epic jam that thankfully involves all five members of this brilliant band performing at the height of their collective powers, some of the movements and changes of pace here are stunning, Cobham is his usual awesome self and Laird gets to step into the spotlight too. McLaughlin's fills are great, the group's sound is alternatively funky and rocky and the three main soloists all exchange lead lines that range in nature from jazzy to avant-garde to Indian classical before Cobham puts in a great drum solo himself, it may run out of steam a bit towards the end, but I think this is the best of the group's "jam" songs.

Sanctuary is an atmospheric piece with an improvised feel that's interesting but perhaps goes on a little too long while Open Country Joy is sheer brilliance. It starts off with a gorgeous mellow acoustic riff with a violin lead (which I would rather have gone on for longer) before the band crashes back in with Goodman and McLaughlin to the fore as usual, and then just as Mac threatens to take the six-string thing too far, the piece returns to its mellow intro. It's lovely stuff. Resolution is another strong albeit brief guitar-driven piece to end the album.

Like Inner Mounting Flame, this is a brilliant album, and while it's a personal gripe that Hammer doesn't get enough soloing time, this is probably the finest acheivement of a fantastic outfit. ... 88% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 4/5 |

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