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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds Of Fire CD (album) cover


Mahavishnu Orchestra


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.33 | 1271 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Absolutely Essential - A World in an Album

I acquired BIRDS OF FIRE late in my tour of the great rock guitarists, actually a few years after I'd left my shred phase behind. I'd submerged myself in blues and jazz, and actually began my slow descent into prog. I was at a college used record store and there I saw this legendary album. I figured I needed it just to shore up my guitar nerd cred, so I picked it up actually having no idea what I was getting. I remember listening in my car on the way home and just thinking "What is this???" McLaughlin's picking certainly was fast as quicksand, but the music was simply way over my head even then. I don't think I even listened to the album all the way through in one sitting at that stage of life. My brain just couldn't get it. And I tried, many times.

Over the last five years, immersing myself in prog, my musical palette has grown a bit. Listening to alot of music in odd time signatures and plenty of counterpoint has allowed me to finally appreciate (though not fully understand) what's going on here. Dozens of listens haven't hurt anything either. I now count BIRDS OF FIRE as one of the highest examples of jazz fusion and classic progressive rock in general.

The long "One Word" is the most typical track, the one that will seem most familiar to listeners of other fusion bands. The groove is frolicking and open, and there are extended solo / jam sections. The central lines that the band returns to, however, are pure insanity. Fast, odd time, with dissonant intervals, the composed sections push against the limits of organized complexity. Though I enjoy the solos on this track very much, this is the least impressive track of the record for me.

The reason for this is that the rest of the record flips the ratio of composition to jam. Shared or intertwining lines dominate the best and most challenging tracks including the colossal title track and "Celestial Commuters." The theme lines on these tracks are just beyond my imagination. How anyone came up with these melodies (if you can call them that) is just so far outside my theoretical understanding...

There are several wide open, beautifully serene acoustic tinged pieces that are absolutely essential to the flow of the record. I believe it was "Sanctuary" that finally turned the light on for me for this band. John McLaughlin's mastery of acoustic guitar is also in evidence, and his voice on the instrument is so definingly his own. (In my opinion far above chief rival Al DiMeola.)

Bottom Line: This is what's behind the last curtain. This is the grand prize of fusion.

Negoba | 5/5 |


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