As far as I can tell no-one else has yet posted a review of Walter Kolosky's book, "Power Passion and Beauty", ISBN 0-9861016-2-9, published by Abstract Logix Books. This is as far as I know the first and only tome dedicated to the history of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the jazz rock fusion band formed by John McLaughlin in the early '70's. Walter is clearly a fan, and he calls them "The greatest band that ever was". His enthusiasm is genuine and it's infectious, and has let him to get access to the main players in the MO and their acolytes.
His book is based on interviews and comments given by others and it's a good format. Walter heaps praise on the MO - especially in its first incarnation - but resists the temptation merely to give us "his" take on things. He gives comments from band members, fans, contemporaries, building up a picture of events, in particular the impact of the band when it started gigging. Some of the quotes are fascinating. Did you know (I didn't) that Tony Levin might have been the bassist? He (Levin) is quoted as saying: "One night...my mother in law told me I'd had a call from some guy with a funny accent….about joining a band, she said, called "Murray Vishnu and his Orchestra".....I ended up turning down the opportunity......I had high hopes for the band I'd started..."Mike and the Rhythm Boys"....never heard of it? Yeah that's life!" Walter’s book though goes on to emphasise how strong a contribution Rick Laird made to the band, and I share this view – with effectively four soloists, the MO needed an anchor man, not Stanley Clarke!
Walter adds some nice touches, it’s not all praise – a quote from Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) who the MO supported early in their life - "...I thought they were boring, sorry..."!!!
The book emphasises how the MO blew away most other bands on the stage, claiming that both ELP and Zappa refused to have them as the support act because after the phenomenal set that the MO delivered, the audience were not warmed up, so much as burnt out by the time the headline act appeared. Quote from Bill Bruford when MO supported Yes - ""I couldn't believe it, heard nothing like it....I grabbed Rick Wakeman and pushed him out to the front of the house with me".
Walter does sometimes give us his personal view of the MO - not surprisingly, he considers the later works good, but not in the same class as that produced by the original 5 piece - but his respect for McLaughlin does mean he glosses over some issues - like, why McLaughlin decided to "divorce" himself from Sri Chimnoy, who gave him the Mahavishnu tag, is dismissed in one sentence; and there is a comment that Cobham and McLaughlin are presently not speaking because of personal differences – eh?!
Walter runs through the band’s instrumentation, including how McLaughlin came by – and broke – two double-neck guitars.
The book finishes with a chapter where other musicians mostly jazz folk give their take on the MO – though in truth this section adds little to one’s knowledge of the band.
Some more pictures would have been good, those that are there a limited to B&W and the paper quality doesn’t help one to appreciate them.
Nevertheless, this book is lovingly constructed and is truly indispensable for anyone who is a fan of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and John McLaughlin. Entertaining, informative stuff – 4 stars.