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


Mahavishnu Orchestra


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.28 | 997 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars As the free love 60s ceded into the 70s, the party was seemingly over as the blues based rock'n'roll turned psychedelic art rock scene was reeling from the deaths of some of the greats of the era. The year 1970 saw the untimely deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix as well as the beloved Beatles calling it quits after a decade long reign after they continuously upped the ante by reinventing rock music. Once again, the very next year of 1971 saw the similar fate of Jim Morrison of the Doors meeting his untimely demise and it seemed that the boldest and brightest stars in the biz had been snuffed out or were calling it quits. The time was ripe for a new era in the evolution of the rock paradigm and British born John McLaughlin was up to the lofty task of assembling one of the most ambitious collaborative efforts in the contemporary fertile cross-pollination of the disparate worlds of jazz and rock. While carefully taking notes under the tutelage of the greats such as Tony Williams in Lifetime and Miles Davis on such classics such as "In A Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew," McLaughlin set out to find the perfect ensemble of extraordinary musicians to bring his musical visions into fruition.

The search was on and in the end McLaughlin cemented his dream lineup of a truly international cast of characters. The whole vision came together as a quintet that included a violinist, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist and an extraordinarily strong drummer. McLaughlin, of course, had the guitar parts covered (making his famous double necked guitar his signature feature) but when it came to a dazzling virtuosic percussionist, his first gaze was fixed on the inimitable Panama born Billy Cobham who worked with McLaughlin in various Miles Davis sessions. The next slot to fill was the role of violinist-in-chief. Originally slated for the great Jean Luc-Ponty, the idea was scrapped due to immigration issues which prevented him from coming to the US where the band was founded (Queens, NYC to be exact.) This led to some investigation work and after listening to some contemporary violin based artists, the final decision was to ask Jerry Goodman of The Flock who turned out to be the only USAmerican of the team. He accepted. Next up, the Czechoslovakian extraordinaire Jan Hammer was a suggestion of Miroslav Vitous (from Weather Report) for keyboardist that panned out and and the final slot of bassist was awarded to Irish Rick Laird who had been an acquaintance of McLaughlin back in England who fit the bill perfectly.

After a complete lineup of top notch talent, McLaughlin chose the name MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA after a name he attained with his studies with his spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy. Right from the getgo the band was a huge hit even at their very first appearance at the Greenwich nightclub "Gaslight At The Go-Go" and soon would release their debut album THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME which found instant popularity and even charted the Billboard charts. In no time at all, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA became a hugely successful popular live act performing a grueling schedule and receiving critical acclaim for their unique fusion of disparate musical styles. Their sound encompassed a heavy rock infused energy ushered in by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and other late 60s heavy rock acts with intricate complex jazz compositions infused with Western classical and Indian classical elements. The band was notable for engaging in frenetic virtuosic performances in perfect unison and the ability to effortlessly transfer into calm bucolic passages, funk dominated rhythms and even basic blues only in unorthodox 7/4 time signatures. This was a band where everyone was the highest caliber of their respective instruments and one of the few examples of a band where five virtuosos shined equally. A true supergroup before most were household names.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA was revolutionary in the maturity of their sound. While the 60s were ratcheting up the complexity in the rock paradigm with such monumental albums as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by the Beatles and the birth of progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion, this group took all the maturing elements and crafted a fully ripened musical style that unlike many of their contemporaries married the youthful energetic flair of rock music without sacrificing the intricate compositional sophistication of jazz and Western classical music. The overtones of Eastern ethnic influences added yet one more layer of compositional genius to their overall approach and the gypsy folk aspects of Goodman's violin performances cemented this unique group as one of the most innovative of the ages. The band had achieved in retrospect the perfect marriage of the contemporary styles of music with each representation: jazz, rock, folk, classical and ethnic each receiving an equivalent heft in the mix with the musicians exuding lightning fast finger melting prowess accompanied by Cobham delivering some of the most intricately complex and comprehensive percussive attacks unmatched until the advent of the most extreme forms of metal music. In fact i would surmise that MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA was just as essential in the development of metal music. Whereas Black Sabbath created the primeval darkness and distorted tritone features and Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin the compositional flair, it was this band that unleashed the full primal energetic fury that most music was lacking during the era.

As THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME begins with its very first moments, it is clear that this is a band unlike any others with members steeped in a multitude of influences and able to latch onto each other's irregularities and complex interchanges like a seasoned flock of birds in unison traversing the vastness of the atmosphere above. The appropriately titled opening track "Meeting Of The Spirits" displays the band in full unifying prowess as guitar, bass, keys, violin and drums all take turns in the spotlight and stepping out of the limelight at the appropriate moment for a satisfying melodic tradeoff steeped in complex time signature deviations like true jazz masters in a heavy rock infused context that without warning can cede to calm smooth jazz passages before erupting into pyroclastic volcanic eruptions of sound. The album is incredibly well paced as well as not to overwhelm and enervate the listener with its frenetic heaviness. The tracks "Dawn," "A Lotus On Irish Streams" and "Dance Of Maya" contain significant sections of calm bucolic contemplative although heavier sections wrest control away ultimately. The general methodology of track placement finds the heavy tracks followed by the slow and dreamy ones until the final track "Awakening" ups the intensity and creates not only one of the most insanely intense tracks on the album but perhaps of the entire early 70s with an insanely electric violin leading the pack that tracks off with drum rolls, keyboard outbreaks, adrenalized bass lines along with McLaughlin's signature guitar fret melting technical wizardry.

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA was one of the rare musical entities of the era that not only conjured up highly innovating and uncompromising compositions performed in the most unhinged and eclectic fashion but they also achieved rock star status with sold out venues, a record deal with Columbia Records and were loved by both the music loving public and critics alike. The convening of kindred spirits was the lightning bolt of creative energy that the music industry needed at the time and helped bring the progressive rock fusion scene to the forefront allowing other musicians to exercise new musical freedom tamped down by commercial interests. While the pressures of instant success and fame would take their toll on the five members in just a few short years, on their debut THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME, the band had already struck gold by culminating the various strains of rock, jazz and folk from the 60s while retaining the elements of funk and blues. Another aspect of the latter half of the 60s was the spiritual quest to seek out a guru with India becoming the destination of choice and McLaughlin's involvement with Sri Chinmoy inspired the ethnic influences which added yet another layer of sophistication in the mix. Personally i probably prefer the followup "Birds Of Fire" just a tad over this debut but there is no doubt that the debut by MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA remains one of most amazing amalgamations of musical mastery in the entire rock / jazz fusion paradigm and is one of those rare albums i never tire of. A true masterpiece of all ages.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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