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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds Of Fire CD (album) cover

BIRDS OF FIRE

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.36 | 871 ratings

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thehallway
Prog Reviewer
5 stars This album is the true definition of jazz rock; it's on the rockier end of fusion rather than the Miles Davis end, and what an album! McLaughlin and co deliver some of the greatest riffs, most explosive ensembles, and most shocking instrumental virtuosity I have ever heard (particularly in the guitar and drums department). The east-meets-west agenda of Birds of Fire is fuelled by high-energy rhythms and riffs, topped off with all manner of jazzy, oriental and more classical harmonies, and some of the best guitar, violin and Moog synth solos ever recorded on tape. There is only one weak track and that is a 24 second pastiche of avant-garde music.

The opening title track introduces us to this band's seamless grasp of every time signature under the sun, romping along with it's main riff primarily in 9/8. Goodman's violin is of particular significance here, although McLaughlin's guitar steals the show. The more laid-back 'Miles Beyond' is a tribute to the man who pretty much invented this genre of music, Mr Davis, of course. Electric piano is groovy here and the violin performs a pizzicato solo, a technique that is rarely seen outside classical music. 'Celestial Terrestrial Commuters' is the definition of cool; cool name, cool metre, cool harmony, and insanely cool Moog solo. I love it when so much is achieved in under 3 minutes. Then, the fittingly calm 'Thousand Island Park', the album's venture into acoustic instruments, contains some beautiful melodies and rhythmic ideas. 'Hope', which closes side one, builds tension around a single, terrifyingly hopeless riff.

That's all positive, but the real coup de grace comes with the album's lengthier centrepiece, 'One Word', which is basically a high-speed vehicle for each band member to solo in. Because the guitarist, violinist and keyboardist take most of the solos elsewhere on the record, they share the same passage, in which they dual frantically in brilliant stereo surround sound. The bass solo is cool and funky, while Billy Cobham's drum solo is just jaw-dropping.... I mean, really, jaw-dropping. He must be an octopus. 'Sanctuary' is more fusion in the tense, chilling vein, slowly building up into some very dark, foreboding territory (it seems to be a theme on the album that the music creates the opposite impression to the name of each piece). 'Open Country Joy' blends western, in fact, wild-western styles with pure jazz rock, in a humorously jagged way. The finale is called 'Resolution', and is another tune that repeats a few bars until things get chaotic, before the crescendo reaches boiling point and we can all have a rest, especially the musicians.

I'd be hard pushed to find music as powerful as this in jazz, or as masterfully composed as this in rock. The Mahavishnu Orchestra found their niche early, and with Birds of Fire, totally conquered it. This album is an unsurpassable peak in a uniquely thrilling area of music.

thehallway | 5/5 |

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