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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds of Fire CD (album) cover


Mahavishnu Orchestra


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.33 | 1454 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars This is the first fusion LP that I've ever bought, without knowing exactly what to expect. I didn't know anything of the band. The remind of the Indian period of Beatles was still close so I thought "Mahavishnu" was meaning something psychedelic with sitar and acid suggestions.... The only band member I was aware of was actually Billy Cobham that I had heard from friends that was a great drummer.

You can imagine how much I was disappointed at the first spin.

Years after, not very much, I started listening to some fusion, mainly Al Di Meola and Weather Report so it led me back to McLaughlin and his band.

My problem with this album was likely the track order. "Bird of Fire", the title track is not easy, specially for a newbie of the genre. It starts dark and dissonant. I've just listened to a Kayo Dot album and the mood is not so different. It takes 2 minutes before one understands what the main theme is. Excellent guitar and violin, by the way. Once one is able to catch the main theme lead by the violin, it makes the listening easier. It's a pity that the track fades out. I have never liked this way to finish a song.

Maybe "Miles Beyond" is a joke and may be read as "Beyond Miles (Davis)" I don't know. It's opened by a nice electric piano but then becomes a bit chaotic, then piano again, and what a piano! Again I think to Kayo Dot: are those guitar chords and drums intervals so different from "Gemini Becomes the Tripod"? However if ones wants to have an idea of how a master of guitar plays this is the right place. Don't try it at home....

"Celestial Terrestrial Commuter" is the first track that I liked immediately at the first listen, when I was trying to understand what I had bought. Not an easy track also this, but it's more rocking, so closer to my actual tastes.

Let's skip the 20 seconds psych filler and concentrate to the very prog "Thousand Island Park". It goes from Renaissance to Pekka Pohjola but also gives McLaughlin the possibility to play some incredibly fast flamenco like he will later do in trio with Di Meola and De Lucia.

"Hope" is another short track, quite challenging and dissonant. Call me fool, but I still think that it's not too different from Kayo Dot.

"One Word" is the longest track. This is jazz. There's room for each component's solo, but it's not an easy one also this. Well, I don't have any problem with tracks like this, today, but in a period during which I was listening mainly to blues and country-rock it was hard for me. The fact that I didn't sell back the album, trying to explore it better, is significant. I was already able to glimpse the good behind. And in any case there's a lot of funk on this track, plus the only one long drum solo that's what I had actually bought the album for.

I found the slow violin based "Sanctuary" boring. If myself only knew what kind of music I'm used to today....I think Fripp likes this track.

"Open Country Joy" has a "happy" start with piano and violin. It's one of the few parts based on major chords. What follows is pure funky. A great track in every sense.

Finally, "Resolution" is another quite dark track with a bit of funky and a crescendo that's like an ascending canon.

It's a fantastic album that I didn't understand initially, but it was more than 30 years ago. Not one that I listen to very often, but the first that comes to my mind when I think to the genre.

I'm still not sure that it's a masterpiece, but it's surely excellent so I'm cautious and go for 4 stars with the possibility that sooner or later I edit this review.

octopus-4 | 4/5 |


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