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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds Of Fire CD (album) cover

BIRDS OF FIRE

Mahavishnu Orchestra

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.33 | 1270 ratings

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Pafnutij
4 stars One of the finest and most important albums in recorded the jazz fusion genre, "Birds of Fire" goes far beyond mere technical virtuosity that everyone associates with Mahavishnu Orchestra. While impeccable shredding on guitar and violin and the amazing drumwork of Billy Cobham are very much present, it is the quality of the compositions that defines the record as a milestone in music. Aside from a few dull moments, the compositions are all very tight and varied, each adding it's own flavor to the overall picture. Of the few complaints I have of this album, I'd mention that I still think Jan Hammer's contributions should've been more prominent, and that I also find the abundant guitar/violin unisons a bit annoying - it seems that they don't sound as good as they should. But these are just minor problems that rarely get in the way of enjoying this highly impressive record.

The title track opens the album in typical (and thus, somewhat predictable) Mahavishnu fashion, but provides a startling effect nonetheless. A series of gong strikes leads into scorching, dissonant guitar arpeggiation that outlines an unusual two-chord vamp; Goodman tops it off with simple, but perfectly fitting violin riffs. Most of the track is still consumed by screaming guitar solos, with McLaughlin opting for a relatively straightforward (and effective) bluesy approach ; just as a reminder of their technical ability, he and Goodman occasionally throw in light- speed scalar runs followed up by beautifully intricate melodies.

"Miles Beyond" is a bit more laidback compared to its' intense predecessior, but great riffing is present once again, as is McLaughlin's soloing ( although in this case it does get somewhat tedious). The following number, "Cellestial Terrestrial Commuters", provides tons of ear candy: the main riff (derived from the Lydian mode) is easily one of the album's catchiest moments (the unison approach works great here, by the way), and Cobham subdues the challenging meters with powerful, rocking grooves. Next comes a bunch of strange, futuristic sounds in "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love", which give way to exquisite guitar melodies of "A Thousand Island Park", one of the album's most beautiful moments.

Oddly enough, the two-minute "Hope" is quite easily my favorite track on the entire record, thanks to the stunning violin melodies navigating over a highly sophisticated contrapuntal structure. Although not an accessible composition, it offers a very rewarding listening experience. The band comes back to more traditional jazz fusion with the epic jam of "One Word": I'm not a big fan of improvisation-based instrumentals and usually get bored by stuff like Return to Forever, but this track I have no problem with at all. It revolves largely around McLaughlin, Goodman and Hammer rapidly trading off fusion licks (Hammer wins here, IMO), while Cobham provides a stunning drum solo in the middle; Laird makes his presence known as well with skillful bass fills.

I'm not really a fan of the next two tracks, however. The dark atmosphere of "Sanctuary" hints at something special, but doesn't deliver it - although the well- phrased violin melodies save it from being a throwaway. "Open Country Joy" is more optimistic, done mostly in a light, laidback style along some fiery MO fushion explosions, yet it doesn't do anything for me either. Thankfully, the band gets it together on the closing number, "Resolution", with Mclaughlin striking tasty chords over a Bb pedal tone.

It may take a while to fully appreciate, but "Birds of Fire" really is one of the finest jazz fusion albums ever made, and remains essential listening to any fan of progressive music.

Pafnutij | 4/5 |

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