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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds Of Fire CD (album) cover

BIRDS OF FIRE

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.33 | 1271 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I downloaded Birds of Fire a few years ago, and it was one of the first "fusion" albums I ever listened to closely. In fact, the only other fusion-related albums I owned all featured Bill Bruford: Moraz & Bruford, Earthworks, and the Bruford band. (Later, I found Miles Davis, including some of his work with John McLaughlin.)

Coming in to Birds of Fire, I knew of John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham. I knew Jan Hammer from his "Miami Vice Theme." And I knew the song "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love" by heart (the They Might Be Giants song, that was - - named after the song on Birds of Fire, as I found out). Oh, and I recognized that Roger Dean must have done the cover.

As I began to listen, I began to form the opinion that this fusion album was like jazz, but with electric guitar, violin, and synthesizer replacing the stereotypical trumpet and saxophone. That was fine for a working theory, and it fit several of the songs on the first vinyl side, as well as "One World." But it was a poor fit for "Thousand Island Park," it failed to explain either of the last two songs on the album, "Open Country Joy" and "Resolution."

After the solid opening song, the Mahavishnu Orchestra really announces its presence with "Miles Beyond" and the incredible "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters." Things return to earth a bit for the next three songs (whose total time is less than that of "Miles Beyond:" "Sapphire Bullets," "Thousand Island," and "Hope." The jazzy "One Word," with its drum solo, is the centerpiece of the album, and harkens back to the sound of the beginning of the record. It's followed by the simmering "Sanctuary," which at five minutes in length is about twice as long as it has to be.

After its opening minute, the penultimate song, "Open Country Joy," threatens to become a mellower "Sanctuary." But its down-home fiddlin' gives way to some awesome jazz-rock. The song ends with a reprise of the opening passage. Finally, "Resolution" (couldn't they have come up with a more creative name?) is a fitting close to the album, even without the unnecessary, drawn-out finality I would've expected from this kind of album. It's more like a coda than a finale, I guess.

Everyone on Birds of Fire is a virtuoso. I'm convinced that even the guy who dusted the mixing desk each morning was one of the world's best at his job. The sound quality is very good overall, although in a few places, the soloing instrument (usually a synthesizer of the violin) is mixed up front and loud, which conflicts with the mixing style on most of the record. I recognize that this is a common practice in jazz, but on jazz records, the effect is achieved more so by having the supporting instruments play more quietly. Anyway, minor quibble.

The composition is also very good. If I had to cite a weakness, it would be that of the rhythm, dissonance, and melody which comprise a work of fusion like Birds of Fire, the melody seems to be in relatively short supply.

Birds of Fire is a very good album. I'd recommend it to any fan of progressive-rock music, even to those who aren't fans of jazz. Fans of instrumental rock will also probably find a lot to like here.

patrickq | 4/5 |

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