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Skullhead View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Mahavishnu Orchestra
    Posted: January 09 2015 at 22:11
I have wondered for years why MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA is not considered one of the giants of prog or spoken in the same light as YES, ELP, TULL, CRIMSON, GENTLE GIANT, PINK FLOYD.

I know the quick answer is going to be "it's jazz fusion".  But isn't King Crimson the prog version of jazz or filled with jazz?

Mahavishnu, it certainly rocks.  It's totally cutting edge for the time.  Nearly every song is in an odd time signature.  Johnny Mac played a double neck guitar, so it even looks prog.  They toured extensively and sold a lot of albums.  We have extreme virtuosity on every chair, and beautiful passages of classical music influence woven into many of the pieces.  Beautiful melodic melodies that are more than memorable.

Birds of Fire, Inner Mounting Flame, Visions of the Emerald Beyond, Apocalypse.  

Assuming you are familiar with ALL of these works...
What is your take?






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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 09 2015 at 22:32
The only reason that they being fusion is a short answer to your question is the fact that fusion isn't symph, which is enough for some of the really close minded progheads to shun them.

Certainly they don't deserve that kind of treatment. Their first two albums alone cemented their place in prog history. They rocked hard, fast, and technical, and the latter part works so well because of the sheer passion each member of the band brought with them. It is just a joy to listen to them. And then they did tracks like "Hope", so there's some extra variety even.

In fact, despite all coming from the jazz side of fusion, they of course were equally rockers of the highest order. Most rock fans, if they gave the band a chance, would fall in love with them.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 09 2015 at 23:13
I first heard them when my main bands were Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath and they completely and utterly blew me away.  Part of it was the sheer madness of energy they demonstrated but a lot of it was also the distorted tones they used.  In a lot of ways they were metal because they rocked as hard as anybody else at the time.  Even now, with a long established metal genre, their music still rocks as hard as anybody else.  They are the best place for rockers to start exploring fusion, better than Return to Forever or Weather Report (both of which I love).
The world of sound is certainly capable of infinite variety and, were our sense developed, of infinite extensions. -- George Santayana, "The Sense of Beauty"
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 09 2015 at 23:51
But don't you think some of the track sound very symphonic also?  Certainly Apocalypse? Yes?

From Wiki:

McLaughlin had particular ideas for the instrumentation of the group, in keeping with his highly original concept of genre-blending in composition. He particularly wanted a violinist as an integral contributor to its overall sound. As the group evolved, McLaughlin adopted what became his visual trademark — a (six-string and twelve-string) which allowed for a great degree of diversity in musical textures double neck guitar.... Hammer became one of the first to play a Mini Moog synthesizer in an ensemble, which enabled him to add more sounds and solo more freely, alongside the guitar and the violin.

Their musical style was an original blend of genres: they combined the high-volume electrified rock sound that had been pioneered by Jimi Hendrix (whom McLaughlin had jammed with on his initial arrival in New York as part of the Tony Williams Lifetime), complex rhythms in unusual time signatures that reflected McLaughlin's interest in Indian classical music as well as funk, and harmonic influence from European classical music.

How can it get more prog?  Even a Guru in the mix...


Edited by Skullhead - January 10 2015 at 00:00
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 09 2015 at 23:59
^ Of course, but with Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire so highly recommended compared to it, you'll find people going there and not liking them, and so not giving Apocalypse its fair shake.

So yes, Apocalypse was brilliantly symphonic, with the kind of prog band plus orchestra interplay only matched by Days of Future Passed and Yes's Symphonic Live. Mahavishnu might have already earned their corn with their first two, but the real hidden treat is their third. If Apocalypse got anywhere near as many recs as the first two, then we'd see the overly symph-happy crowd get into a Mahavishnu album for once.

Heck, one negative review of Apocalypse called it too symphonic for that reviewer's tastes! You are more than right.


Edited by Lear'sFool - January 10 2015 at 00:02
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 00:02
They lack badly on the melody side. They are more about soloing. I only like the occasional song(usually slower tracks). Great musicians but I don't enjoy them much. Not really a fan of McLaughlins guitar style or sound and I don't like violin/fiddle unless it's classical style
All I like is prog related bands beginning late 60's/early 70's. Their music from 1968 - 83 has the composition and sound which will never be beaten. Perfect blend of jazz, classical, folk and rock.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 00:09


I was late coming to the party with Mahavishnu.  This is one of the reasons I don't listen to much new prog because if I missed this body of work from the 70's, what else have I missed? I can't imagine anyone who has been properly turned on to Mahavishnu would instead buy a new copycat prog release instead of the rest of the Mahavishnu catalog.  I mean this is essential stuff is it not?


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 00:13
Originally posted by dr prog dr prog wrote:

They lack badly on the melody side. They are more about soloing. I only like the occasional song(usually slower tracks). Great musicians but I don't enjoy them much. Not really a fan of McLaughlins guitar style or sound and I don't like violin/fiddle unless it's classical style


I have to disagree, I think they have amazingly strong melodies, quite often.  Lot's of soloing but didn't ELP have lots of soloing? 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 00:45
I checked these guys out years ago after reading a Miles Davis bio. I'm not into Miles or most jazz, but the book led me to Mahavishnu Orchestra and I was really impressed. I haven't heard much that combines jazz arrangements with often heavy guitar so nicely!

Edited by twalsh - January 10 2015 at 00:46
More heavy prog, please!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 00:57
Originally posted by Lear'sFool Lear'sFool wrote:

^ Of course, but with Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire so highly recommended compared to it, you'll find people going there and not liking them, and so not giving Apocalypse its fair shake.

So yes, Apocalypse was brilliantly symphonic, with the kind of prog band plus orchestra interplay only matched by Days of Future Passed and Yes's Symphonic Live. Mahavishnu might have already earned their corn with their first two, but the real hidden treat is their third. If Apocalypse got anywhere near as many recs as the first two, then we'd see the overly symph-happy crowd get into a Mahavishnu album for once.

Heck, one negative review of Apocalypse called it too symphonic for that reviewer's tastes! You are more than right.
 
It is easy to forget Apocalypse or any of the ensuing albums under the Mahavishnu moniker, but I find it an excellent album.  It may not have the same ferocity as the earlier recordings but it has plenty of energy and taking the concept of orchestra more literally it has a lot to offer.  And besides, it also features Jean-Luc Ponty, keeping the violin sound intact yet more refined.  It angered many people for many different reasons.  The rockers and fusionists indeed found it too symphonic but the classicists hated it so much it almost destroyed the career of Michael Tilson Thomas.  It is precisely such a mix that attracts my attention.
The world of sound is certainly capable of infinite variety and, were our sense developed, of infinite extensions. -- George Santayana, "The Sense of Beauty"
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 01:42
Originally posted by Skullhead Skullhead wrote:

I have wondered for years why MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA is not considered one of the giants of prog or spoken in the same light as YES, ELP, TULL, CRIMSON, GENTLE GIANT, PINK FLOYD.

I know the quick answer is going to be "it's jazz fusion".  But isn't King Crimson the prog version of jazz or filled with jazz?
(...)
What is your take?
 
One of the main reasons is certainly that Mahavishnu Orchestra was an instrumental band and they weren't recorded songs. Consenquently, they could not scored any hit or just a radio friendly song as e.g. Jethro Tull's Locomotive Breath, KC's Cat Food,  ELP's Lucky Man, C'est la vie, Yes' Roundabout, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here (the song), to name a few.

Edited by Svetonio - January 10 2015 at 01:46
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 01:44
Aside from the band's not being song oriented, Mahavishnu has genuine prog moments but is most of time busy and tends to feel "horizontal". Isn't prog about being more vertical, taking more time for contemplation, emphasing more each asthmatic blows propelling us into the sky, and being more relaxed...




Edited by jayem - January 10 2015 at 01:53
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 01:57
^ Prog can go either way. Crimson and the Giant's hardly relaxed, just to start...
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 02:16
I think they were/are a bit overlooked very much like Gentle Giant were. Tremendous musicians without doubt. At school I can remember people going on about Billy Cobham so I guess he was the one who managed to have a successful solo career beyond the band.

Oh and isn't the name just a bit confusing? Why did they choose it?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 02:29
Originally posted by richardh richardh wrote:

I think they were/are a bit overlooked very much like Gentle Giant were. Tremendous musicians without doubt. At school I can remember people going on about Billy Cobham so I guess he was the one who managed to have a successful solo career beyond the band.

Oh and isn't the name just a bit confusing? Why did they choose it?
McLaughlin was into Indo/Raga, he has some excellent works with Zakir Hussain and Krishna Bhatt, so that name is not a big surprise. I don't think they are in the same league of the bigs, but only because they are different. We could make the same considerations for bands like Magma, Tangerine Dream, Area and Art Zoyd. Excellent musicianship and innovative music, but the "big ones" had huge commercial success and are known also by the mainstream listeners, at least by name. This is what classifies them as "bigs". 
Personally I don't like Genesis, so being "a big" doesn't mean that I must like it more than the so-called second league. 
Curiosity killed a cat, Schroedinger only half.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 04:10
Instumental or not they were once hugely successful compared to Gentle Giant and Genesis as well. All their 1971-1976 albums charted in the us and many other counties.

Here's a slightly vulgar comparison and not totally fair. They are like the early 70's jazz-rockfusion version of Dream Theater. Most noobs curious of jazz(rock) are blown away hearing MO's two first albums. Myself included. After a while their frenetic noodling and constantly showing off chops combined with lack of substance gets tiresome. Especially after you discover all the real great stuff that's out there. Excellent musicians that were put to use better in other constallations (I have not heard Apocalypse, though). That said some of Inner Mountain Flame and Birds of Fire's quieter moments are not without beauty.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 04:16
Originally posted by Saperlipopette! Saperlipopette! wrote:

Instumental or not they were once hugely successful compared to Gentle Giant and Genesis as well. All their 1971-1976 albums charted in the us and many other counties.

Here's a slightly vulgar comparison and not totally fair. They are like the early 70's jazz-rockfusion version of Dream Theater. Most noobs curious of jazz(rock) are blown away hearing MO's two first albums. Myself included. After a while their frenetic noodling and constantly showing off chops combined with lack of substance gets tiresome. Especially after you discover all the real great stuff that's out there. Excellent musicians that were put to use better in other constallations (I have not heard Apocalypse, though). That said some of Inner Mountain Flame and Birds of Fire's quieter moments are not without beauty.
The difference I was mentioning is about the mainstream listeners. Everybody knows Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd. In this sense Gentle Giant are second league as well as Mahavishnu. I'm considering only the years up to 1977 more or less. Nothing to do with the beauty of their music. 
Curiosity killed a cat, Schroedinger only half.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 04:39
Originally posted by Lear'sFool Lear'sFool wrote:

^ Prog can go either way. Crimson and the Giant's hardly relaxed, just to start...

Eh, eh...Crimson has the storms and rushes that made them so enjoyable, but you also have chillouts like after the LTIA I solo, or they have Exiles, and Trio. We'll Let You Know takes its time. So much more "relaxed" times than in Mahavishnu. Giant feels much less "speedy" and on the nerve, esp when sung falsetto.

Mahavishnu...Very long busy tracks, and in some ways less contrasting moods and tracks than KC or Giant...


Edited by jayem - January 10 2015 at 04:41
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 04:44
Originally posted by richardh richardh wrote:

I think they were/are a bit overlooked very much like Gentle Giant were. Tremendous musicians without doubt. At school I can remember people going on about Billy Cobham so I guess he was the one who managed to have a successful solo career beyond the band.

Oh and isn't the name just a bit confusing? Why did they choose it?


Gentle giant were great composers though.
All I like is prog related bands beginning late 60's/early 70's. Their music from 1968 - 83 has the composition and sound which will never be beaten. Perfect blend of jazz, classical, folk and rock.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 10 2015 at 04:46
Originally posted by octopus-4 octopus-4 wrote:

Originally posted by Saperlipopette! Saperlipopette! wrote:

Instumental or not they were once hugely successful compared to Gentle Giant and Genesis as well. All their 1971-1976 albums charted in the us and many other counties.

Here's a slightly vulgar comparison and not totally fair. <span style="line-height: 1.4;">They are like the early 70's jazz-rockfusion version of Dream Theater. Most noobs curious of jazz(rock) are blown away hearing MO's two first albums. Myself included. After a while their frenetic noodling and constantly showing off chops combined with lack of substance gets tiresome. Especially after you discover all the real great stuff </span>that's<span style="line-height: 1.4;"> out there. Excellent musicians that were put to use better in other </span>constallations (I have not heard Apocalypse, though). That said some of Inner Mountain Flame and Birds of Fire's quieter moments are not without beauty.

The difference I was mentioning is about the mainstream listeners. Everybody knows Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd. In this sense Gentle Giant are second league as well as Mahavishnu. I'm considering only the years up to 1977 more or less. Nothing to do with the beauty of their music. 


Gentle giant were probably the ultimate prog band. Surely not 2nd league
All I like is prog related bands beginning late 60's/early 70's. Their music from 1968 - 83 has the composition and sound which will never be beaten. Perfect blend of jazz, classical, folk and rock.
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