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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds Of Fire CD (album) cover


Mahavishnu Orchestra

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
5 stars How does one better perfection? How could MO possibly top their incredible Inner Mounting Flame debut album? Well for one, they didn't know that it couldn't be bettered and for two, they actually did it by fiddling and twiddling the tiny imperfections and an increase tightness as they were now well acquainted with each other after pulling 300 concerts over two years, whereas for TIMF, MO had been together a matter of weeks. So in the early fall of 72 came out Birds Of Fire with an outstanding artwork halfway between Rothko and Folon and incendiary music to match both the cover and the title. With an unchanged line-up, MO was now soaring so high that the air is getting thin.

Unlike the debut who had only one track under the 5 minute-mark, Birds Of Fire is made of a myriad of shorter tracks with the just two well over that same 5 minute-mark. One of those being the opening title track that sets the standard even higher than Meeting did on TIMF, with Hammer and McLaughlin trading riffs and links over a wild rhythm section, which violinist Goodman choose to accompany to great affects. This track is most likely imbedded in the vast majority of 40-something western music fans' subconscious mind, because it sounds familiar to almost everyone. A slower Miles Beyond (obviously dedicated to the man with the horn) crescendoes slowly until a huge riff takes the track upside down and once there, only Hammer and Goodman are keeping it alive until Mc and Cob come to the rescue and bring it back on its toes. An amazing trick that shouldn't let anyone

The rest of the tracks on the first side are short thingies insuring quick changes, starting with Celestial Terrestrial Commuting, which obviously influenced Steve Hillage's early solo works (Fish Rising to Open), Sapphire Bullets being just an electronic frenzy. A Spanish piano and guitar duo introducing a Flamenco ambiance where Mc's fiery guitar goes to extreme, while Laird's bass provide plenty of underlying drama and the needle lifts off another Meeting motif reworking, this time called Hope.

The monstrous 10-mins One World (an oldie from the Lifetime days) opens up the flipside, first gently under Cobham4S gentle drive morphing into a martial beat and bringing the track up to 200 MPH, with Hammer, Mc and Goodman trading licks, motifs and soloing away, before Cobham takes a solo (even if he's the best in the world, it's still a boring solo, no matter how overstretched it is) and thankfully closing up the track with some powerful instrumental interplay. Sanctuary is a slow-developing track, opening on Goodman's uber-absolute violin than the rest of the musicians slowly entering the track, in full restraint, the listener can hear the quintet containing their energies to avoid exploding and respect the superb track. Open Country joy is often a bit overlooked, with its pastoral violin line, then a slight explosion before bringing us to one of the world's best album endings: Resolution, which starts on a solemn martial chill-inducing crescendoing track bringing the tension to a max allowable (Goodman's violin is incredibly efficient at this) before the burst.. Which will never come as the track ends and the needle lifts off, leaving us to imagine the explosion of molten volcanic rock in fusion. What a bunch of bloody teasers

Well, MO managed to perfect perfection, and they probably did it without being aware of the feat and actually rushing it up. Indeed the album was done between two tours and most members think they could've twiddled a few more knobs and refined the compositions to better it further still. As can be heard in One World, the three soloists where in a very competitive environment and the egos where now acting up a bit, although in this album it remains at a healthy level.

As a side note, regarding the egos, Mc had been recording his collab with buddy Carlos Santana and taking with him Cobham, eventually touring to promote the Love Devotion Supreme album, hand coming within hours of missing the opening the first concert of MO's tour of Japan, thus being under-rehearsed for a while and creating much bad vibes for the next six months before the group implodes, taking in the abyss the recording sessions of their next album >> see Lost Trident and Nothingness reviews for more details.

Report this review (#22470)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Has nobody heard this album?, let alone appraise it?

This is just sheer rock meets jazz meets, well the world's best drummer - Billy Cobham and wow, the world's best electric viloin player - Jerry Goodman. The sheer speed of the music,if not the techniacl brillaince has to heard to be believed.


Report this review (#22471)
Posted Friday, March 5, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars For those who love (like me) progressive fusion jazz/rock will need to get your hands on this masterpiece. Without a question the first few MAHAV albums are some of the most aggressive and mind stretching albums of all time. The MAHAV's output from the Trident Studio days are to treasure in your collection for sure. Once again here we get a fantastic collaboration of musical instumentation and musical ideas. John McLaughlin's guitar solos are simply killer and being back by Hammer (keyboards), Laird (bass), Cobham (drums) and Goodman on violin makes this a real keeper. At times "Birds Of Fire" identifies a quasi - KING CRIMSON feel with lots of originality and musical sophistication. If you have high blood pressure, you may not want to plug in this album to your stereo. Absolutely stunning musicanship and one of the best fusion/prog albums your money can buy... Even a Miles Davis tune to boot

Report this review (#22472)
Posted Thursday, March 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars I just bought this one three days ago, but I loved it from the beginning. As of now, I like it more that their first one; it was more easy listening (ja!)to me than the first one; more catchy. In the boklet a member says that he felt this was sort of metaljazz. I agree; its just aleague on ots own, because its rock, prog, metal, jazz, and hindu music, dam it!!! its great. I like that the KBs are more versatile that in the first album, using now some synths here and there. I would acutally rate this one ****1/2, as of now of course, maybe tomoorrow itll be higher!
Report this review (#22474)
Posted Monday, May 10, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars yeah. 1973. I was 16. came home at night and heard tracks of mahavishnu at the radio. shurely, it was also influenced by the end of a love-affair, but john mclaughlin and his group (esp. hammer and cobham), m.d., trane.......... they are responsible for opening a new dimension in my experiences in music I started to "listen". only 5 stars here to choose? "birds of fire" gets 9 and a half!
Report this review (#22476)
Posted Tuesday, July 13, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars After the initial Mahavishnu Orchestra album it seemed that nothing and nobody could touch Johnny and the boys. This follow up album couldn't even match the phenomenal Inner Mounting Flame, although the original musical concept is carried over. If one enjoyed the unusual time signatures, tempos and strange minor keys of the first Mahavishnu album you can't go wrong with this gem. However, unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end for a group which contained just a little bit too much talent. The album is more refined than the raw Inner Mounting Flame . The interaction between Cobham and God John is just as it was on The Inner Mounting Flame. Look out for the astounding rythms conjured on the track ironically titled One Word. The band would do one more session at Trident before indifferences broke it up.Essential jazz-rock fusion. Like the first one play at extremely loud volume.
Report this review (#22479)
Posted Monday, September 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This is an absolute masterpiece!

Honestly i met Mclaughin´s music because of the trio with Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola, then i found an album of him with Santana, in both cases i noticed his exquisite and awesome guitar playing, then because i was really interested on his music, i found a lot of info about Mahavishnu Orchestra, and also i found that Birds of Fire was a very suggested album with excellent critics, so i got Birds of Fire then.

And actually this was my introduction to Mahavishnu´s albums, sometimes the introduction is the most difficult period , i mean because of your introduction to the artist you will determinate if you are interested in other albums or not, if you like it or not, this was the best choice, im not saying that maybe Birds of Fire is the best way to start with Mahavishnu Orchestra, but ít could be, and also if you love jazz fusion, this album is an obligation to you.

Im not so familiarized with jazz, i like it a bit, but this album is simply awesome, it shows us the great musicianship in the band, Mclaughlin is a god of guitar, he plays so fast and so well, along with the violin player who is Jerry Goodman here, they make and excellent couple of superb music, all the band is great ,the drummer is also superb and actually i dont think this albus have weak moments, every song is great and every song make you clear your mind and enjoy the music.

Report this review (#22481)
Posted Tuesday, March 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Mahavishnu Orchestra's second effort, Birds of Fire saw the band continue on the raw energy of Inner Mounting Flame. However, the textures are more defined this time around. With Billy Cobham at the top of his art, and flaming solos by the three soloists, John Mclaughlin on guitar, Jan Hammer on keyboards, and Jerry Goodman on electric violin. The album starts with of the most furious songthe band would ever write, the anthemic title track. The song ''One Word'' saw a real battle of solos between the three soloists, and finishing with a wonderful drum solo by Cobham. Mclaughlin took some heat off with beautiful low tempos songs, such as Thousand Island Park, where Hammer and Mclaughlin use acoustic intruments instead of their original furious eletric attacks. A true masterpiece of the fusion genre, Birds of Fire would be the last album of the first incarnation of Mahavishnu's idealogies. A must for any fan of fusion.
Report this review (#22483)
Posted Wednesday, May 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Birds Of Fire is Mahavishnu's follow-up to the ground breaking The Inner Mounting Flame, and if anything, it's an even better album. Even if the shock-value of the musicians' brilliance has diminished, the band seems more balanced (ie, less million-notes a minute solos from guitarist John McLaughlin and keyboardist Jan Hammer's presence is more noticable) and the compositions are more varied.

Not that you'd tell from the opening title track though. It's basically got more of the same, heavy rock jamming that coloured Inner Mounting Flame, with fiery playing by both violinist Jerry Goodman and McLaughlin. Although I think Goodman generally shows more taste in his soloing, this song contains one of McLaughlin's best solo spots and I still think Billy Cobham's drumming is outstanding in a group of titans. Miles Beyond is a more eclectic piece though. It starts off unbelievably cool with Hammer leading on electric piano, but then with a crash, McLaughlin and Goodman take over with some heavy soloing which is then followed by some great acoustic picking ... it takes some getting used to, but overall the piece is pretty awesome.

Celestial Terrestrial Commuters is another one of those rockers where Goodman and McLaughlin spew forth one fiery line after another, although on this track they actually interact more. The 21 second Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love is obviously not a substantial piece but Thousand Island Park is a stunning acoustic duet starring McLaughlin and Hammer. One of the group's best ever pieces, its starts off in reflective mode before each player shows his true genius with some delectable runs. It's definitely the highlight of this album as far as I'm concerned, even if One Word turns out to be more representative of the band's overall style.

Hope is a brief sweeping piece that starts off pretty interestingly but never really goes anywhere. One Word is the prog-epic jam that thankfully involves all five members of this brilliant band performing at the height of their collective powers, some of the movements and changes of pace here are stunning, Cobham is his usual awesome self and Laird gets to step into the spotlight too. McLaughlin's fills are great, the group's sound is alternatively funky and rocky and the three main soloists all exchange lead lines that range in nature from jazzy to avant-garde to Indian classical before Cobham puts in a great drum solo himself, it may run out of steam a bit towards the end, but I think this is the best of the group's "jam" songs.

Sanctuary is an atmospheric piece with an improvised feel that's interesting but perhaps goes on a little too long while Open Country Joy is sheer brilliance. It starts off with a gorgeous mellow acoustic riff with a violin lead (which I would rather have gone on for longer) before the band crashes back in with Goodman and McLaughlin to the fore as usual, and then just as Mac threatens to take the six-string thing too far, the piece returns to its mellow intro. It's lovely stuff. Resolution is another strong albeit brief guitar-driven piece to end the album.

Like Inner Mounting Flame, this is a brilliant album, and while it's a personal gripe that Hammer doesn't get enough soloing time, this is probably the finest acheivement of a fantastic outfit. ... 88% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#22484)
Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The first time I heard Mahavishnu Orchestra I was completely and utterly blown away by theior welth of power, urgency and thundering musicianship. At the time I was becoming bored with the lack lustre music the ninties had to offer and in particular needed something explosive to give me back the excitement that I first felt when I discovered the bands and acts and singers and songs that gave me a passion for music at what by then seemed a very long time ago. Music had become stagnant and I had lost complete faith in the whole fiasco and so stopped buying newly released music and tried to delve deeper in the history of rock and I decided to go beyond that restricting border and venture into the world of jazz rock fusion, it was time to explore new avenues and open up to the possibilities that the wider spectrum of music could offer .

I had heard Inner Mounting Flame very passively at a friends flat over a few joints of skunk but the music kept with me especially the musicianship of the players and the speed and intricate guitar playing of John McLaughlin juxtaposed with Jerry Goodman's violin. Birds Of Fire for me is an even better result. Explosive and white hot and each member pushing the borders and creating this overwhelming intense music saturated in a complicit beauty. The precision of the instrumental pieces is almost unbelievable in execution and it is not surprising that the Mahavishnu Orchestra have become arguably the most influential act from the fusion era. This album is a must have for any music lover and to hear McLaughlin/Goodman/Hammer playing off each other is stunning-the title track "Birds Of Fire" and "Open Country Joy" being but two examples- backed by one the finest and surely tightest rhythm sections ever in drummer extroardinaire Billy Cobham, and Northern Irish bassist Rick Laird. Essential.

Report this review (#35773)
Posted Wednesday, June 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Absolutely excellent - superb - divine. Though I have long since stopped listening to this style of music with regularity, it still sends chills up my spine every time I hear it. I first heard this back in the early 1970's in college. I had to buy a copy. I went to see them when they came to my college - SUNY at New Paltz. Saw every show. When CDs came out and I finally had a CD drive, this is one of the very first that I purchased. It ranks with Fragile and Close to the Edge by YES, In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson, ELP, 70's Chick Corea, 70's Miles Davis. Jan Hammer (keyboard) did Miami Vice theme. Mahavishnu was Miles trained. This is excellence personified.
Report this review (#40633)
Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Yes, I did mean 5 stars as I clicked OK on the "do you really mean it..." tab that pops up when you select a 5 star rating on this site. Briefly for those that don't know, the band in its first and very best incarnation was John McLaughlin (ex-Miles Davis) guitar and leader; Jerry Goodman on electric violin; Jan Hammer (Miami Vice) on key's; the phenomenal Billy Cobham on skins and Rick Laird on bass.The basis of the music was great musicians - and I mean really great - playing jazz/metal/fusion based music with superfast soloing and improvisiation - all instrumental (until the later incarnations of the band).

For me, this their second album is even better than "Inner Mounting Flame" - more structure to the tracks, and more diversity too - "Open Country Joy" has you've guessed it got a touch of C&W about it but don't let that put you off....the title track is a blinder, Cobham's furious drumming underpinning McLaughlin's soloing. Back in vinyl days, each side finished with a shorter (2 min) number with a simple riff, building higher and higher - "Hope" was for side 1, "Resolution" on side 2. "One Word" is the longest track with the three soloists exchanging at a furious pace, before a slightly overlong Cobham solo (the only small disappointment, this). "Sanctuary" builds the tension up again with Jan Hammer's erie Moog and Cobham stretching the beat out. And I love "Celestial Terrestial Commuters" (hey, it was the '70's...) with Cobhams pace behind against Goodman and McLaughlins dueling.

It may sound an odd comparison, but at times the music reminds me a little of King Crimson in the "Red" era, which I think is down to the guitar leading the structure of most tracks. This is an album that if you haven't heard, you really should at least try it. 5 stars!

Report this review (#41425)
Posted Wednesday, August 3, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Can't I give this six stars?

I did not know you could do these things with music, until I found Birds of Fire.

Listen for the way that one instrument will blend into another.

This is a perfection of prog-jazz, where every instrument has equal value, and is played with exceptional ability. Yet the sheer and awesome technical prowess is naver allowed to get in the way of producing fine, inspiring music. Yes! This album is actually pleasant listening, if you can keep it in the background! But you will be drawn into the interweaving and counterpointing. If this album was a novel, they'd be writing doctrates about the inner meaningof each phrase.

Lose yourself in her.

Report this review (#42327)
Posted Wednesday, August 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Really wonderful...... The work of Mc Laughin is great, richness musical appeareance. Cobham give drumming from classical till jazzistical sounds. The piano with Jan Hammer is beatuful, charming sounds coming from it. Violinist Jerry Goodman work with freedom to jamming and so concentrate in some sounds that perhaps someone think in a special effect from keyboards but is a violin!!!! Finally the bass with Rick Laird achieve to mix eficcienttically with his pals. 5 stars at all!!!
Report this review (#47668)
Posted Wednesday, September 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Fusion seems to be a "like it or hate it"-genre. I would like to give this album some attention for its virtuosity, hard "riffs", and melodies. Maybe "melodies" is the wrong word, but what I mean is that it's catchy in the same way as it's complex. The virtuosity here is amazing, and the compositions are very inspiring. Hearing these guys play, you soon realize that this is far beyond stiff tecnical exercises in well- playing. This is steaming hot jamming rock, with a sophisticated touch. High quality entertainment from start to finish. RECOMMENDED!!!!!
Report this review (#64976)
Posted Monday, January 16, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Birds of Fire was one of those albums that when I first bought it, it had a profound effect on me. What John McLaughlin did was to take three instruments that could bend the pitch: guitar, violin and moog. This came from his interest in Indian Music. The first two albums are a pitch-bending frenzy. The first album, Inner Mountain Flame, was wild and raw, badly recorded but oh, so wonderful. McLaughlin wrote the book on odd meters. This follow up is much more tame, but still as wonderful. The pieces ae much more lyrical. Of course the melodies are still angular as in the title track, which begins the album with a gong. The track One Word is one of my favorites. It begins with guitar, bass and Billy Cobham playing those wonderful pseudo- paradiddles that characterize his funky style. This continues for several minutes until the guitar solo enters. The guitar, violin and moog trade off solos that start at two measures and then slowly become more compact, one measure, two beats, one beat or one word. This ends with a screaming trio that breaks into a drum solo, quite dramatic and creative. I would not trade this for the raw craziness of the debut, but you don't have to. This isn't a desert island; you can own both.
Report this review (#65785)
Posted Saturday, January 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is the band's follow-up to their 1971 debut, Inner Mounting Flame, and marked the pinnacle in the band's career. In the wake of their first album came a mighty slew of converts to the fresh sound that Mahavishnu generated. People were in awe upon hearing this innovation to Jazz-Fusion, and even some Prog-Rock bands of this era were inspired by the electrifying, orchestraic, and thunderous sound created from a group merely consisting of 5 members.

With such a monstrous debut, some thought Inner Mounting Flame impossible to be beaten by a follow-up. A year later, their speculations were proven wrong. An intricate compilation of mellow, yet experimental rhythms and melodies that could best be described as "mystifying," Mahavishnu's follow-up effort, "Birds of Fire," packed the innovation and intensity necessary to topple its predecessor. The sound produced from these extraordinary virtuosos proved to be a unique chemistry to only be obtained by those equipped with a vision to progress to the next level of music.

From start to finish, this album displays the characteristics of various genres of music, ranging from Jazz-Fusion, Jazz, Rock, Country, Prog, R&B, all molded together to form an exemplary supernova sound that has influenced and intrigued many fine musicians of that era, and even those of today. One group that is noteably influenced by the Mahavishnu Orchestra would be the Prog-Rock titans, Yes. Yes' fascination with the Mahavishnu Orchestra led to the creation of perhaps the greatest and most transcendent Prog album of all time: "Close to the Edge."

I highly recommend "Birds of Fire" for any Prog, Jazz, or Jazz-Fusion fan. Hell, anyone that is into experimental albums, I suggest this one for a fine listening experience.

Report this review (#66527)
Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars For those who are being introduced to the jazz/rock fusion genre (like me), I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this album. A masterpiece; the fusion of electric bass playing and angular melodies is intoxicating. I particularly enjoyed the outside electric guitar solo in Birds of Fire.
Report this review (#67172)
Posted Saturday, January 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars As I recall, my first encounter with The Mahavishnu Orchestra came sometime in '73. I and some of my scalawag musician buddies were watching the late-night show "In Concert" on television in order to catch The Allman Brothers and MO was the opening act. I'd already read about the group in a magazine but with a name like that I figured them to be some kind of levitating, robed gurus that burned a lot of cheap incense and chanted weird mantras together. However, none of us gathered 'round the boob tube that evening were prepared for what we heard and saw when they started playing. It was one of those magical moments in my life when I knew I was witnessing true greatness and I sensed a permanent reboot and realignment in my mental concepts of what was possible in music. The musicians in the band were creating sounds that might as well have been beamed down to us from another galaxy. To say that it was foreign to our ears is putting it mildly. To say that I was immediately befuddled and galvanized by their tidal wave of sound is a profound understatement. I don't remember if any others in the room were as entranced by them as I was but I can assure you that I didn't give a rat's ass what they thought. I'd found a group that both amazed and excited me and I had to get them on my stereo ASAP.

Wanting to hear what they'd played on the show I opted to purchase their "Birds of Fire" album first. I doubt that it left my turntable for months. I was hopelessly addicted to them and I became a real nuisance to my friends by constantly talking about them and opining about how jazz/rock fusion would never be the same because of their wizardry. Little did I know at the time that this particular version of The Mahavishnu Orchestra had jumped the proverbial shark and were already splintering asunder. That news was to be a major disappointment for me yet the fact remains that while they were together they created what I consider a masterpiece of the genre that hasn't lost a single molecule of its ability to instill shock and awe in the listener. Even four decades down the line it is still unsurpassed and I expect that in a thousand years it will continue to make jazz musicians and aficionados go slack-jawed in stunned admiration. Personally, I have yet to get over my astonishment. To this day it blows me away with every spin. A note of caution is in order, though. When playing this disc at home keep anything flammable away from the speakers. There will be sparks.

Drummer extraordinaire Billy Cobham's clanging, flanged gong at the beginning of the record's title song dramatically announces that you're about to go on one of the wildest journeys your aural organs will ever embark on. Leave all preconceived notions behind because this isn't just five guys making a bunch of avant garde noises. This tune, as well as all the others to come, has a solid melodic structure (however frantic it may be due to the velocity involved) that links the individual solos together cohesively, making the incredible make sense. John McLaughlin's guitar, Jerry Goodman's violin and Jan Hammer's keyboard acumen is measured in astronomical terms and the group's intensity is beyond belief. I've never experienced anything similar to it since. "Miles Beyond (Miles Davis)" follows and Jan's soothing Rhodes piano is a much-needed tranquilizer after surviving the hurricane that blew through the opening cut. The song has another memorable melody to wrap your mind around, Goodman's nimble-fingered violin ride displays his versatility and Cobham confirms that he's an unrivaled beast of beats. The next number's name, "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters," says it all except that it's also rush hour in their corner of the universe. The highlight of this insane instrumental is the heated duel that occurs between John and Jerry. It's the stuff of fantasy. Another aspect of their music I love is how they don't stretch out the tracks just for the sake of stretching them out. They don't overstay their welcome.

"Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love" is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it psychedelic moment of Zen that leads to "Thousand Island Park." This is a quieter but no less fascinating piece that takes an all-acoustic approach wherein McLaughlin flies and Hammer soars while bassist Rick Laird holds it all together on the upright. The song is a breath of pure oxygen. "Hope" is a blissfully transcendent, repeating pattern of notes that not only grows brighter by the second but literally moves me to tears. My only complaint is that, lasting less than two minutes, it is cruelly short-lived. This is what a saint's ascension into heaven must use for a soundtrack. Billy's perfect closed roll on his snare at the start of "One World" is like an approaching hailstorm. The band then delivers the complex central theme as well as establishing the tune's blistering tempo. For dynamic tension Laird contributes a modest bass lead to set the stage for what's to come. McLaughlin, Hammer and Goodman then circle into a ménage a trois of virtuosos in which they engage in a contest of other-worldly one-upsmanship that blazes up in ferocity to the spontaneous combustion point where Cobham breaks up the fight with a dazzling drum solo. Even if you're allergic to such things, lend an ear. The man's no stick-mauler, he's a master technician worth paying attention to. The number's appropriately aggressive end segment will singe your eyebrows off. Sheesh McGeesh!

"Sanctuary" slips on a hypnotic waltzing rhythm to lull you into a false sense of knowing exactly where you are as they demonstrate their willingness to restrain their passion but not their emotions. The melody that John and Jerry perform in unison is as sad as a face full of tears. (I'd ask that they play this at my funeral but it would probably just freak folks out so never mind.) The beatific intro to "Open Country Joy" is misleading as they suddenly turn on a dime and switch to a funky groove that struts proudly beneath fiery spasms emanating from the torrid trio before non-chalantly restoring pastoral peace. The closer is the stupendous "Resolution." As is the earlier "Hope," it's a too-brief excursion into ecstasy that climbs and climbs higher and higher to an inexpressible apex that can only be compared to what it must feel like standing upon the summit of Mount Everest. It's not just music, it's an encounter with God.

What these relatively young geniuses do on this album is more than super-speed shredding, they trip the light fandango. They move as fast as bolts of lighting but with the grace of a gazelle. Their debut LP is great and I recommend it but "Birds of Fire" is in a class all its own. It fills me with childlike wonder as few bands have ever done every time I sit and let it wash over me. It just may be my favorite jazz/rock fusion album of all time but that assessment can change from day to day (It does have competition). One thing's for certain. It is without question a pristine masterpiece of modern music and a huge milestone in the evolution of jazz. To rate it as essential doesn't do it justice.

Report this review (#70406)
Posted Friday, February 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars You may need to get used to it, but when it clicks you will realise "Birds Of Fire" is one of the best and most interesting albums ever - without a singer. The tracks vary from speedy, jazzy guitarplay often simultaneous with the piano and/or violin like "Birds Of Fire" and "One Word" to calmer, more melodic songs such as "Thousand Island Park" and "Open Country Joy".

The songs are quite hard to get into though, and aren't something you should listen to with a headache but they contain superb musicianship from guitarist, bassist, drummer, violist and keyboardist - i.e. the whole band. The song "One Word" contains one stunning solo after another for EVERY INSTRUMENT (yes, drums and bass too) while "Celestial Terrestial Commuters" shows great interplay between keyboardist, violist and guitarist where they seem to melt together and then violently erupt.

Report this review (#72481)
Posted Tuesday, March 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#72598)
Posted Wednesday, March 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Birds of Fire was my first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, and after hearing to all the others, wich are all fantastic albuns, it remans as their best work for me.

This music is hypnotic and misterious, all done in a very clever way, that makes me very excited every time I listen to it. If you haven't heard Mahavishnu yet, try this one, if you don't like it... Well, bad for you.

A 5 star for sure, an essential masterpiece that should be heard for everyone with a taste for jazz and experimentalisms, all performed with amazing virtuosism.

Report this review (#75555)
Posted Thursday, April 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The second album "Birds of Fire" by Mahavishnu Orchestra, led by the incomparable guitar of John McLaughlin, is still at par excellent with the debut album. The Orchestra (the band) still consistent with its musical concept of combining jazz, rock, and eastern influences into a fiery, dynamic tour de force. "Birds of Fire" was the culmination of a solid year for the band as opening gigs for the likes of ELP and YES.

You can find this album is truly a masterpiece one even from the dazzling album opener "Birds of Fire" where violin and guitar played intertwined mode in a composition that rather can be classified under avant-garde. "Miles Beyond" brings the music in the same style but it has many breaks (without drumming) which demonstrate how guitar solo and bass play the part incredibly. The eastern nuance also appears right here. Billy Cobham plays his drum masterfully. "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" brings the music into a faster tempo and this time Jan Hammer is given a chance to demonstrate his keyboard skills in between guitar solo and violin solo. Interesting track! After a bridge "Saphire .." the band moves into "Thousand Island Park" - a kind like string music featuring electric piano which sounds like Chick Corea, acoustic guitar and acoustic bass. It's a kind of musical break with great performance especially with John with his speed guitar playing.

"One Word" is the longest track in this album and it kicks off beautifully with Billy Cobham's speed snare drum work. The music that follows bring the nuance of intricate and balanced combination of band members virtuosities. This might be the most powerful song compared to other tracks. Rick Laird is given a chance to perform his bass guitar dynamically augmented with guitar rhythm section and keyboard. "Sanctuary" is a mellow track with soft touch guitar and keyboard playing. "Open Country Joy" brings the music into jazzier style with Jan Hammer work together with Jerry Goodman (violin). The music then moves into a very intricate style with violin, guitar and keyboard play intertwiningly. "Resolution" concludes the album with an accessible style and medium tempo. Guitar plays the melody.

It's definitely a masterpiece of prog music. Highly recommended. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#75807)
Posted Friday, April 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars

being a metalhead, my only 'touch' with jazz/fusion was bands like 'Atheist'.. after discovering prog metal and then prog rock about twelve years ago, i managed to appreciate this genre via bands/artists like Return To Forevel, Miles Davis, Roberta Flack, Billy Cobham, Brand X etc..

even though, i can't say i have become a jazz prog specialist, one thing i know is that this album, along with 'Spectrum' by Cobham (Tommy Bolin rules..) blows my mind... it's the unique way these musicians approach McLaughlin's ideas, it's their flowing talent, it's their spontaneity, it's everything in it that makes this album essential to all music fans', in general, collection...

Report this review (#86954)
Posted Sunday, August 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I'd say this one is on the top of the 70's fusion heap, next to its predecessor "Inner Mounting Flame". Definitely an essential edition for listeners of 70's prog.

It starts out with the title track, and McLaughlin rips a brutal solo. This song really sums up what Mahavishnu was about: fast, technical melodies and fast, technical solos. The Violin/Guitar interplay on Celestial Terrestrial Commuters is one of the highlights of the first half.

Thousand Island Park is a nice break from the electrified first 12 minutes. It's a nice acoustic piece with good piano and acoustic guitar work. Not the best acoustic piece here though. One Word is the real highlight of the album. Awesome solos, Cobham particularily.

Sanctuary is a really beautiful piece. McLaughlin playing is even more impressive on the acoustic guitar. This is the acoustic highlight of this album. Resolution lives up to its name, closing the album nicely.

I'd say this is one of the essential albums of the 70s. If you like it, fusion is for you. If not, I'm not sure how much of the genre you're going to enjoy.

Essential, 5/5.

Report this review (#87568)
Posted Thursday, August 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars After the stunning debut of Inner Mounting Flame, I dont think anyone could have expected a follow up more skilled, more musical, more brilliant. But they got one in this incredible masterpiece, Birds of Fire. The group chemistry, already excellent, became almost transcendent in unison and artistic power. John McLaughlin kept up his blazing guitar work, while Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman took more assertive roles with piano and violin. Rick Laird's bass was forced to deal with even more complex rythyms and came through swimmingly, while Billy Cobham's drums added energy and precision to the group. This album comes across as a more balanced work than the debut. McLaughlin gives his fellow members more of a chance to shine, and the resulting sharing of wealth allows for more artistic variation. The title track, the opener, starts the album off with ominous arpeggios of guitar and a shreiking, soulful electric violin. Soon guitar and violin go into a duel of simply amazing virtuosity, all over the rich foundation of cymbals and rythym. Miles Beyond is a tribute to Miles Davis, with whom McLaughlin had worked in the past. Bass and keyboards open this slower-midtempo piece, then violin joins the song. The guitar keeps fairly subdued and is used only mutedly until the end of the piece, for great effect. Celestal Terrestial Commuters shows off Jan Hammer's "new toy", the Mini-Moog, while other members of the ensemble keep up the groove. Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love is really weird... you lovers of Electronic Prog might get it, but it seems to be a bunch of spacey sound effects played over sped up violin and guitar. It is only 21 second, though, and serves almost as a comical break before the next, more serious acoustic piece.

That next piece is the excellent Thousand Island Park. It is the only acoustic work on the whole album, and piano, bass and guitar unite without the other members for a beautiful change of pace. Hope is kind of a let down for me. It is very good, to be sure, but seems too short for its grand, ascending theme. One Word, however, is brilliant. It may be my favorite jazz fusion song of all time. One Word features the technical brilliance of Billy Cobham, from the blazing drum roll fade in to the mid-piece solo. Guitar, violin, and keyboards also all get workouts in this driving up-tempo beauty. Sanctuary is slower, almost mournful in tone, but very expressive and well played, with emphasis on violin. Open Country Joy starts lighter, with an appropriately pastoral performance by Jerry Goodman and Hammer. It then transforms into something still light, but now with the strength of guitar and a slightly Mooged keyboard. It then returns to the original country theme... the transformations must be heard to be fully appreciated.

The appropriately titled Resolution ends the album by building up a scale with violin and power guitar. It keeps on building and building, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the final violin hold and drum roll out... the end of one of the greatest albums ever made in fusion. The skill and energy and balance between members who know what they are doing and know how to show it... it is a thing of great art. And it gets this reviewer's five stars.

Report this review (#87839)
Posted Monday, August 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
con safo
5 stars For me, the pinnacle of jazz/fusion. This was the second album of the infamous first line-up of MO, and each player brings their own unique style to the music. From the lightning fast fingers of John McLaughlin to the awesome drumming power of Cobham - the whole band overflows with talent and energy. With Birds Of Fire, the band interaction had reached almost un-human levels - playing in such a way that had never before (or since) been matched. Spit-fire solo trade offs and much tighter composition set this album apart from it's more free-form counterpart Inner Mounting Flame, yet the band never loses it's improvisational edge. Even at it's most precise moments the album always has an essence of spontaneity. Some highlight's include the blistering title track, where John and Jerry play the main melody in unison, their instruments coming together to sound like something not of this world - face melting intensity! The first half of the album is rather heavy, before taking a meditative intermission with the beautiful little track "Thousand Island Park" - some very nice acoustic guitar and violin runs, very eastern feel. And of course one cannot ignore the jaw-dropping "One Word" a blistering intro followed by an atmospheric funky jam - soon overcome by some of the most awe inspiring solo trade off's in rock history - it is like the musicians are no longer several people, but one musical entity. Billy also gets to show off his chops in this track - listen for the powerful and complex drum solo (it's hard to miss!).

A mind-bending mixture of jazz, rock, and eastern influence, this album IS the defining moment in jazz fusion. 5/5

Report this review (#88073)
Posted Wednesday, August 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Most of what we now recognize as Jazz Rock Fusion dates back to the first two albums by John McLaughlin's MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, which ought to be enough reason to locate either on that (sadly, not very remote) Prog Archives plateau of certified five- star masterpieces. "Birds of Fire", in 1973, was the second and more popular of the pair: a sizable crossover hit at a time when even casual music fans were a lot more adventurous than they are today.

Significance aside, it was also an essential slice of unadulterated instrumental genius, allowing McLaughlin the chance to refine the lessons learned alongside Miles Davis during the legendary "Bitches Brew" sessions a few years earlier. Miles drew the blueprint; McLaughlin built the house, giving it some necessary structure (and brevity: compare any cut here to the monster 27+ minute title jam from Davis' 1969 album), and directing it toward an audience more accustomed to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix.

Like all the best so-called Fusion, this is actually Rock, but played with a jazzer's ear for timing and dexterity. Listen to the aptly titled twin tracks "Hope" and "Resolution", with their endlessly rising chords anticipating what would soon be heard from the "Larks Tongues" line-up of KING CRIMSON (Fripp and McLaughlin were clearly kindred musical spirits). Or the pinpoint speed and precision of "One Word", accelerating to a hypertense climax from an already alarming breakneck pace. Or the furious title track, with McLaughlin trading heat and friction with Jerry Goodman's (electric) violin and Jan Hammer's keyboards.

Loud and fast guitarists were of course not uncommon in the 1970s, but McLaughlin's style was something else entirely: raw and emotional, heartfelt but blistering, and matched only by the superlative talents of his fellow Mahavishnu bandmates, surely one of the most impressive group of musicians ever assembled. But it isn't all virtuoso fireworks. "Miles Beyond" (a tribute of sorts to McLaughlin's mentor, who on "Bitches Brew" had likewise named a song for his guitarist) digs an easygoing groove, and "Open Country Joy" should strike a chord with fans of the DIXIE DREGS more bucolic barnyard excursions. Then there's the 22-second "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love", a spurt of proto-ambient noise with a title longer than the track itself.

The band imploded during the sessions for an aborted third studio album (see "The Lost Trident Sessions"), but they left behind a long shadow, filled with countless Jazz Rock copycats. Imitation is said to be another form of flattery, but none of it could ever hope to match the original.

Report this review (#89040)
Posted Tuesday, September 5, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the bests fusion Rock/Jazz album. I love it since 1974. It represent the best music done on seventies, specially from 1970 to 1975 where the real synphonic Rock, Fusion and Jazz where on their best. Actually the musicians cannot create and become to be accepted on the market because of the stupid producers not allow. They look always for easy and quick profit. This music will remain forever alived. I remember also musicians that integrated this group as Stanley Clark, Lenny White,Jean Luc Ponty, and more.
Report this review (#99833)
Posted Tuesday, November 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is truely THE best Jazz/Fusion album, with some of the greatest instumentation in almost any band. The first time I listened to it I had it in the background and it sounded like an insane mass of sound. But listening to it again afterwards, the structure of the music was very intelligent, not something most bands can pull off. Also, they're use of the "rock violin" is a defining aspect of this CD making it better than it normally would be. I only regret MAHAV wasn't around longer to produce more genious.
Report this review (#101355)
Posted Friday, December 1, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Birds of Fire is the Mahavishnu Orchestra's second outing after the ambitious and explosive debut, The Inner Mounting Flame. The classic lineup of McLaughlin, Goodman, Cobham, Hammer, and Laird is back with more fiery fusion and light-speed soloing. Members of the band have claimed, and rightly so in my opinion, that the MO was the first speed metal band. To me, the Mahavishnu Orchestra is what Dream Theater might sound like if the members functioned as a team. Birds of Fire is rightfully labelled the greatest fusion album of all time because it loses little to none of the ferocity of the debut, but it introduces new subtlety more prominent in jazz. You can switch to this album after hearing Coltrane and it fits; likewise, you can listen to it after Yngwie Malmsteen and it won't drop a beat. McLaughlin is the master of the 12 string guitar; most would say Jimmy Page is but anyone in the know credits McLaughlin's fiery solos over Jimmy's almost as inspiring riffing. Birds of Fire would prove to be the last studio album the classic lineup released for two decades. In the 90s, the masters of tracks the lineup was working on were found and the excellent Lost Trident Sessions arrived for a blast of fusion. This album is the pinnacle of fusion and one of, if not the greatest, rock instrumental albums of all time.

Grade: A

Report this review (#101447)
Posted Saturday, December 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Even now, i love to hear the sound of this album in LP version. It brings more roar to the sound. Not much to say... the fantastic intro of John in his twelve string electric guitar with a indian rythmic ostinato, the sound of Jerry's violin, the incredible Billy Cobham's drum work... This work have a very indian felling mixed with fusion jazz. It's amazing the atitude of doing jazz with a gibson pluged into a Marshall Stack, playing so loud in 1973. The rock scene enter depply in jazz on Birds of Fire. The musicians are exellent, all very well played. It's an album that we need to ear a couple of times to enjoy at 100%. After that we almost need to ear it to breathe. Excellent addition to any prog music collection.
Report this review (#101533)
Posted Monday, December 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars A friend of mine got me into this band like 3 months ago. I've never heard Mahavishnu Orchestra before, and he gave me "Birds Of Fire" as a big example of the band's sound. Since then I've listened to it at least 30 times, and with the fourth listen I was enjoying it. At first I was with the expectation of how the record will sound: Jazz-rock/Fusion without sax or trumpet (I was -and still- very accustomed to Wheather Report, Jaco and similars' sound) ... so, as I predicted, it's more rocker, specially in some moments (and McLaughlin's solos add a lot of rock elements), but still a Fusion, in other words, a Rocker Fusion is the perfect genre where Mahavishnu belongs, IMO. The musicianship is excellent, McLaughlin a beast on the guitar, he plays crazy and some very, very fast solos, adding, as I said before, a lot of Rock elements with them. But in the solos he's not alone, Goodman (violin) and Hammer (keys) duel with him, Hammer using a lot of tasty effects (Moog synthesizer) with his keyboard and Goodman, oh God, amazing, a violin playing the pentathonic scale!! The rhythm section is amazing too, an excellent drummer, a beast of the instrument, Cobham, who does a phenomenal job, and a correct bass playing by Laird.

Well, let's go to the music: every track here is more than good, and some great, rocker and 'orgasmic' moments take place here. The highlights: the opener "Birds Of Fire", which is introduced by a 12 string guitar melody, followed by a bass/violin line (with some references to classical indian music), and a very, and I say VERY rocker melody which is repeated along the song, with fantastic guitar solos in the middle, a discharge of adrenalin, amazing! (recommended to play this track LOUD, very loud!); the mid-tempo "Miles Beyond", which starts with a warm bass line, a bit of funky feeling on the rhythm, when power distorted guitar chords enter and keeps the song in a slow mood on the majority of the song ... and again superb guitar solos; "Thousand Island Park" is the quiet segment of the disc, featuring nice acoustic guitar and piano making unison sweet melodies; another great moment comes with "One Word", which is THE solo time for everyone: a cool bass solo in the beginning, and THE moment of the album is with the following guitar/violin/keys duel, an amazing skill demostration, 50 notes per second and all keeps having sense, and takes you to that so called 'orgasmic' musical moment! And that's not all! Then, in the final of the song a strong drum solo takes place ... What can I say? They really play THAT good!!; "Open Country Joy" always gives a smile on my face with the quiet and happy violin melody, then suddenly enters, oh, I mean, explode the other instruments and another nice duel begins! (to return then to the quiet melody); "Resolution", the title says it all, it's a resolution to the album, going higher and higher, and finally getting a climax to conclude this excellent disc.

Overall, an essential album on the Jazz-Rock/Fusion genre, but an excellent addition to any Prog music collection, a pleasant and violent musical journey! Reccomended to anyone!

Rating: 4.2/5

Report this review (#101605)
Posted Monday, December 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars I really don't get what's so special with this album, for me the music is cold and purely technical, and that's just a no-no in my book. My ears can appreciate intriguing technicality but it should be accompanied by some feelings, and not just getting all wild for the sake of showing "the skill". Songwriting is not only virtuosity. Even harder than playing a guitar that fast is to manage to pass some actual soul to the listener, this is the really challenge and goal in music in my opinion, that's the reason i can't enjoy, even though i respect, this album. Maybe someday i'll change my mind, but for now this one didn't grow on me and leaves sleepy by the half of it.
Report this review (#111378)
Posted Friday, February 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Right here we have one of those few, rare albums where all the musicians are absolute virtuosos, they all know they're absolute virtuosos, they all set out to convince you they're absolute virtuosos, and they do so without in anyway compromising the mood, integrity, or quality of the compositions. There's so much energy in the album I'm surprised it doesn't spit from the vinyl. It's amazing how heavy the band makes jazz sound, no doubt mostly thanks to John McLaughlin who plays a million-note solo style I usually hate but he makes it so tantalizing that I can't resist it on this album.

The album also has it mellower moments, which I tend to prefer as it brings Jerry Goodman to the forefront. Him and Jan Hammer really create an amazing world of melody together that sometimes fails to really show when the album kicks into it's heavier moments. I almost feel bad giving the album only 4 stars because it's a really beautiful and more than anything, impressive, album , but it does have some moments I feel are superfluous, namely the middle section of "One Word."

Regardless, it's really a landmark in the genre. Of all Fusion bands, they do the best job of bringing rock's energy into jazz, while still maintain the strict jazz identity.

Report this review (#113973)
Posted Thursday, March 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars First time i listened to Birds Of Fire - its sounded very messy and strepent, but it was the first time. I have to say its truly a masterpiece, because there are only few albums that stay on my playlist for so long. They play so good, that every it feels im listening the album for the first time. Although i dont reccomend to play the album on a party or for the larger growds - i have tryed it and they just went nuts. I think that the Birds Of Fire is the one that goes straight into your brain. If you have not heard it, and if you like fusion/ jazz rock, its the one album you should get, its a great experience.


Report this review (#117687)
Posted Monday, April 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Since I discovered the progressive rock, I've fascinated by jazz rock / fusion genre, because I "like" the jazz, even if I can't understand it. But with the Mahavishnu Orchestra I can understand his music, and so I love so much this album, "Birds of Fire". At the beginning I think: "is it music? and is it progressive rock?". And that's because this jazz-rock is complex, with some dissonances and strange intervals. But nowadays I must say: "I love Birds of Fire". An enormous album. It gains five starts for me.
Report this review (#120024)
Posted Saturday, April 28, 2007 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars Until today I never had the courage to review a MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA album, because I'm far from being an expert in Prog Fusion and to be honest this band has always been extremely complex for my limited understanding.

But this days I have decided to give a new chance to bands that I'm not very fond on, and it was the turn to listen again "Birds of Fire and honestly I was more impressed than ever before, I must admit they are not my cup of tea but the touch of the genius shines even for inexpert ears as mine.

The album opens with Birds of Fire, based in the excellent and ultra complex work of John Mc'Laughlin, adding that unique oriental touch (Enhanced by the gong sounds that Billy Cobham adds to his fantastic drumming), it's almost an uncontrolled chaos where all the instruments overplay one on the other passing the lead from John to Jerry Goodman and his wild violin, the interesting thing is that instead of explosions of power, the soft Jazzy moments are the ones that appear by drops as to give a touch of normality to this mixture of sounds and styles. Amazing track, even when extremely complex.

Miles Beyond acts as a reliever, the intro announces that the song will have more participation of Jan Hammer and his keyboards but soon the duo Mc'Laughlin and Goodman appear adding some sort of controlled wildness, even when this time they managing to avoid the uncontrolled cacophony of the previous track, nice bass work by Rick Laird, another good song closer to the canons of Jazz.

Celestial Terrestrial Commuters is an excellent track that crosses almost every sub-genre of Prog, the experimentation reaches the border of electronica, there's some sort of contrapuntist duel between all the instruments that keeps the listener interested, another wild song, pure adrenalin, Until today I don't know if the short and electronicSapphire Bullets of Pure Love is meant to be an individual song or just a coda to "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters"..Only Mc'Laughlin knows.

Thousand Island Park is my favorite song and one of the examples why I love Prog so much, mostly a duet between Hammer and Mc'Laughlin where John embraces everything he loves, blending his pure Flamenco style with the extreme beauty of Jan Hammer Neo Classical jamming, simply outstanding.

Hope is a short and disappointing track, keeps going in crescendo as announcing something interesting but fails to reach the peak, simply keeps going nowhere, of course the skills of Hammer are evident but skills alone are not enough, probably a filler.

One Word is the longest track of the album and one rare examples of Prog Fusion mixed with some sort of Space Oriented Rock and free jamming, every member is allowed to prove their skills, but always manage to keep the coherence of the track, Cobham's speed drumming is simply breathtaking and Rick Laird is brilliant.

Sanctuary starts dark and haunting with Hammer creating atmospheres (Something very unusual at this point) and then incredibly the music turns into some sort of Symphonic Jazz where the melody takes the central role instead of the aggressiveness of the previous tracks, extremely beautiful.

Open Country Joy is another soft and short track closer to melodic side of MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, for the first time Jerry Goodman sounds like a traditional violin player rather than as a force of nature, adding fine textures, but again in some moment of the song they open the cage and John starts challenging Jerry to a duel (Which he accepts), a duel that has no winner but the audience, at the end and as to prove his versatility, Goodman adds some soft Country music lines.

Resolution closes the album with a martial sound that again goes "in crescendo" but never reaching the climax, honestly each time I listen this track I keep expecting some development of the musical idea, frustrating is the word to describe it.

Now my dilemma is how to rate the album, it's obvious that the skills of the band are incredible and the music is very good but still feel like something is missing (maybe I'm the one not able to find it), so five stars is out of the equation. Three stars would be unfair because it's essential to have this album in a decent Prog collection, so I would go to a four stars option, even when I believe 3.5 stars is the exact rating, sadly it's not an possibility in Prog Archives.

Report this review (#123096)
Posted Tuesday, May 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars What a true wonder of the Universe this one is. How the heck did these guys come up with this stuff? I figure it was electronic computer messages from space, or at least that's what I thought the first time I heard it. I was, after all, and no big surprise, very high at the time.

From the opening sound of the gong, Birds Of Fire transports the listener to another dimension of jazz, and or rock, by bringing the two genres together so interconnectly. I still marvel at this one, but you should be aware that your mood might partly determine whether you will like this one or not. It's intense alright. Just try to follow Cobham for any length of time... it's exhausting.

Once again Jan Hammer shows why he too is an overlord of fusion. All of these guys are. Jerry Goodman from The Flock on Violin, Rick Laird on Bass and of course John Mclaughlin on guitar.

Report this review (#124910)
Posted Wednesday, June 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is one of those albums I appreciate and respect but do not personally like. That said, this or the debut MAHAVISHNU album deserve a place in the collection of any true fan of progressive music.

It's certainly a fine example of jazz/rock fusion, with the amazing technical proficiency the musicians demonstrate reminding us that truly great musicians are adults among children. They certainly make most bands sound amateurish, and are a long way ahead of the current darlings of the 'technical proficiency' set, DREAM THEATER.

But, I repeat, I don't like it. Notice that not many of the reviews of this album talk about the superior songwriting. This is, I think, because songwriting was a secondary concern. This is often true of jazz/rock fusion, but the very best albums of any genre should invoke deeper emotions than envy or astonishment. I admit a bias toward symphonic prog (my first love), but I've tried to listen widely, and I've given this album a great deal of my time.

The title track and opener, 'Birds of Fire', is an excellent example of what I mean. Within a minute or so it's told us all it has to say. A fabulous violin-led main theme presages the first of many soulless McLaughlin guitar solos. Problem is, when the music is already racing along at 110%, where can a solo take it? The song - and the album - needs a greater dynamic range to work for me. Give me one of FRANK ZAPPA'S fusion albums any day: though they are nowhere near as technically proficient, they're a great deal more enjoyable.

Four stars, then, in recognition of the power and skill of the musicians. But, in terms of enjoyment, it barely scrapes three stars for me.

Report this review (#135570)
Posted Friday, August 31, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the best albums ever, very disonant but not to the extent to Inner Mounting Flame. This one is also "smoother" than the afore mentioned, but it still seems to be sounding at 200 km/h. As great an album as this is, I don't see much jazz in it. It's Fusion but leaning in a much stronger fashion to the Rock side of the equation. For some real JAZZ-fusion listen to Davis' Bitches Brew or The Soft Machine's Third.
Report this review (#146807)
Posted Wednesday, October 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Mahavishnu Orchestra is the most intense band ever (except King Crimson), and this is their best (and most intense) album. The title track is a true scorching blast of virtuosity from McLaughlin and Co. Some of the firiest soloing ever can be heard on this song. Miles Beyond, however, is my favorite song on the album. The keyboard intro is one of the greatest introductions in music and then it just gets into this epic riff with guitar and violin that makes one of the truly heaviest moments in music ever. After that you get what is probably McLaughlin's catchiest (yeah) soloing ever. Some other highlights on the album are One Word, Thousand Island Park, Open Country Joy, and Resolution. Essential for any jazz fusion or progressive rock fan, and highly recomended for any rock fan.
Report this review (#150226)
Posted Sunday, November 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Unlike the consensus according to ratings on this site, I think The Inner Mounting Flame is the better album by a slight margin. That having been said, I do believe both are masterpieces, and thus I am awarding Birds of Fire with 5 stars also. The opener, the title track, is a killer tune featuing a triple polyrhythm in 9/8 between the guitar, drums and violin/bass and along with the cornerstone piece "One Word," a ten-minute powerhouse, is one of two highlights for me. The album as a whole is a bit more abstract and "out there," so its a bit more difficult to get into and features fewer melodies and easily memorized sections. Of course, repeated listens will be rewarded.
Report this review (#150902)
Posted Thursday, November 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars If you want the best work of Mahavishnu get this album, it is by far their best work with the classic line up of amazing musicians. Mahavishnu adds more rock into what they do more than like a weather report or early Return to forever. Some of my favorite tracks are Birds of Fire title track and opener, a very intense jazz rock song. Another favorite of mine is One word, Billy Coham's drumming is pure genius on this album and especially on this track, this one also features some awesome great Jan Hammer work on the keys. Open Country is all Jerry Goodman on Violin, this song has a country feel to it.And John Mclaughlin guitar playing is so ahead of its time, this band is one of the jazz fusion giants and Progressive rock should own Birds Of Fire. You don't have to be into Jazz to enjoy this album. 5 stars fusion at its best
Report this review (#151219)
Posted Friday, November 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars One really has to wonder just how much planning went into this album--did these guys just roughly sketch out the basic format of the songs and then let it rip? I imagine that is the case, which makes some of the things you hear on Birds of Fire absolutely jaw-dropping. Although these songs mostly feature catchy tunes, the true magnificence lies in the interplay--Mahavishnu Orchestra really did push each other beyond their already formidable individual capabilities. If there is one quintessential fusion album, it is probably Birds of Fire.

Ironically, that is also why I don't view this album as a masterpiece. Some of the songs (Hope, Resolution, Celestial Terrestrial Commuters) are relatively simple music ideas that are to be carried solely by the technical prowess of the players. It is a tribute to the skill and fusion of these guys that these songs are still memorable, but they also really prevent Birds of Fire from having an overall cohesion, diversity, and progression that I am looking for in a masterpiece album.

Birds of Fire, Miles Beyond, Thousand Island Park, One Word. These are the highlights for me, and each is an incredible piece in its own right; however, they also sample such diverse styles that it's remarkable to find them all on one album. If the rest of this album was this high in quality, Birds of Fire would be a hands-down masterpiece in my book. Birds of Fire represents Mahavishnu Orchestra at its most chaotic, energetic, and creative, full of unique violin/guitar interplay and explosive drumming by Cobham, all to an irregular time signature. Miles Beyond completely changes gears, with a groovy, playful rhythm that reminds somewhat of Cobham's work on Spectrum. Thousand Island Park moves in yet another direction, being a structureless, impressionistic, yet beautiful portrait of music. Then we eventually reach the highlight--One Word. One of the absolute high points in all of fusion, the boys really take their time in developing one of the coolest grooves you will ever hear, leading to some awesome synth/violin/guitar dueling. The rhythm section absolutely simmers with coolness on this track--I personally can't get enough of this song and probably never will.

All in all, Birds of Fire contains some incredible playing and represents the epitome of fusion. I will stop just short of calling it a masterpiece, because simply cutting things loose and playing as opposed to creating a complete and cohesive album are two different things. One thing is certain: By any standard, you need this in your collection.

Report this review (#156715)
Posted Wednesday, December 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is so good, I just can't imagine music without it. Everything's great here, even the 20 seconds of Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love has its importance in this maelstrom of guitar, violin, bass, keyboards and (perfect) drums. My favorite track (all instrumentals) here is probably Miles Beyond, an ode to Miles Davis. You could hear some parts of Miles Davis's Mademoiselle Mabry (itself inspired by Hendrix's The wind cries Mary) on this track. The most impressive track (maybe the best) is One Word, almost 10 minutes of a pure jam between John McLaughlin and his mates (Goodman and Laird are marvellous violonist and bassist). And the title track is perfect too. I just said to you : nothing's wrong in these Birds Of Fire. A masterpiece. A must-have.
Report this review (#162843)
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
5 stars An absolute shred fest ! That is what I kept saying over and over when I first heard this masterpiece. This is the best Jazz / Fusion album I have ever heard, and I am especially blown away by the light speed playing of John McLaughlin and the monster drumming of Billy Cobham, both are overwhelming. And while there is a lot of unearthly playing at incredible speeds, there is also lots of variety on here as well. When they recorded this album you have to remember they had toured relentlessly in support of their debut record,opening for bands like YES, ELP and the ALLMAN BROTHERS. So they came into the studio knowing each other very well, and were as tight as a band could possibly be. I can only imagine what people in the audience would have felt when they saw these guys live for the first time.

"Birds Of Fire" opens with the clashing sound of a gong over and over before guitar, drums and bass come in. Violin arrives and is really prominant along with the drumming. That is until McLaughlin sets the song on fire ! We're not worthy ! He just wails on that thing, making it cry out and do pretty much what he wants it to do. Unbelievable. Violin comes and goes. "Miles Beyond" is a Miles Davis cover. You have to remember that both McLaughlin and Cobham played previously with the great trumpet player. This one opens with Hammer on keys as drums join in as the sound gets louder as guitar and violin join in.There is a pastoral section before Cobham shows off his astonishing talent. Not to be out done the gunslinger McLaughlin fires off a few rounds at high speed 3 minutes in. Violin returns to end it. "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" features Cobham and McLaughlin again showing off their outlandish talents.The guitar and vioin trade solos wonderfully. Hammer offers up a dose of mini-moog.

"Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love" is 21 seconds of experimental and spacey sounds. "Thousand Island Park" is a beautiful track where we are treated to grand piano, upright bass and intricately, complex acoustic guitar melodies. The only acoustic track on here. "Hope" is an intense song with drums, violin and keys leading the way. Check out the drum intro on "One Word" as guitar, keys and bass arrive a minute in. Cobham is relentless as his drumming builds. Laird on bass joins Cobham to create magic as they go on and on until the guitar comes ripping in followed by the violin as they trade solos. Cobham is the only one left standing after 6 minutes and he puts on a clinic for over 2 minutes and then everyone returns to the fray to end it. "Sanctuary" is a darker track with drums, bass and keys dominating as the guitar and violin come and go.This is a time to catch our breaths and reflect. Cool song. "Open Country Joy" is such a good song.The liquid keys are so inviting as tasteful violin comes in. Then a minute in after a brief silence we get an outburst as violin and guitar rip it up. The mellow melody from the beginning returns to end it. Nice contrast. "Resolution" is the 2 minute closer that is so powerful, catchy and amazing. It builds slowly right to the end.

This is so technical yet so emotional, a rare combination that makes this recording extraordinary to say the least.

Report this review (#163785)
Posted Wednesday, March 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Andrea Cortese
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars No one could really deny the importance and the appeal of this extraordinary album. Since its starting point the listener is subdued by arrogant electric guitar playing of McLaughlin even when it duets within violin. Simply wonderful. Nothing to say.

The only remark is that it's not on my list of the all time jazz-rock favourites just because it's not able to catch my attention until the end. Not that it means I dislike such fabulous composition. They make me shiver especially when acoustic guitar and piano softly whisper. Maybe is a light lack of variety. I don't know. That's not important, after all.

If you really wish to listen to something original, aggressively pure and involving jazz-rock with harder shaded guitar, violin and excellent but not of primarly importance keyboards, then this is one for you. A classic, indeeed. A must have in every respectable discography, if you want. And I'm proud to have my copy too.

Report this review (#164531)
Posted Friday, March 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Nobody does it better. Mahavishnu Orchestra is the jazz fusion sound that defined the 1970's. Their 1972 release Birds of Fire refined the meaning of perfection from their first work, The Inner Mounting Flame. There is no low point on this album; Birds of Fire is perfectly formulated like the ideal hamburger in a hungry man's mouth. A tightly-knit, well rounded fusion album topped off with John McLaughlin's ridiculous shred solos that bring a hard rock edge into the fray, complimented with the uneasy unisons of Jerry Goodman's violin, Jan Hammer's brilliant keyboard work, Rick Laird's groove-oriented basslines, and the thundering of drum beast Billy Cobham's percussion. A thrill ride from start to finish. BE FOREWARNED! This album, while representing a pinnacle of progressive music, is not for everyone. The rapid time signature changes and odd meters present may conjure irregular bodily reactions for some listeners, forcing them to spontaneously depart to the restroom while listening to this album. If this is the case, I would recommend sticking to more mainstream progressive music. But for seasoned musicians and listeners alike, Birds of Fire achieves new heights in terms of listening experience and contemporary music. A must for any prog fan.
Report this review (#178611)
Posted Friday, August 1, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jazz Fusion in general, I discoverd on the Prog-Rock Archives. I probably would not have been exposed to this type of music if I wasn't willing to explore some of the other "Genres". I mostly like Hard Prog (Rush) and Symphonic Prog (YES, Camel), but I have always been able to appreciate any good quality music, and this level of Jazz-Fusion is very high-quality indeed.

Birds of Fire is the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album that I bought. Here are my impressions of the songs on this disc:

1. Birds of Fire (5:43) - A simply stunning opener. After a gradual warm-up, the whole band cuts loose and you really begin to get a taste of what you're in for. With the swirling keyboard sounds of Jan Hammer ever present, John McLaughlin begins to literally assault you with his guitar playing. Incredible performance.

2. Miles Beyond (4:40) - Things slow down a bit. This one begins with some nice simple electronic piano by Hammer, then; the slow percussion of Billy Cobham and bassist Rick Laird come in. Soon the pace picks up, and the electronic violin of Jerry Goodman takes off. Time changes again and again, then slower, quieter.then these "birds of fire" take off again, and again with complex rhythms and sounds.

3. Celestial Terrestial Commuters (2:55) - This is a short, quick number that showcases all the members of the band. It features numerous back and forth solos from McLaughlin, Goodman, and Hammer.

4. Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love (0:21) - A short interlude of experimental music.

5. Thousand Island Park (3:20) - A quieter, more acoustic, track featuring piano, guitar, and bass only. At times, the guitar and piano, duplicating the same notes as if they were one instrument.

6. Hope (1:55) - A much more orchestrated arrangement on this one, with a predominance of violin and percussion.

7. One Word (9:55) - Starting off with nothing but Cobham's snare, the percussive rhythm never stops. Building like a freight train of sound, Jan Hammer's keys, Rick Laird's bass, it's all here. Backing up, then, lunging forward in a dynamic soundscape of true Jazz-Rock fusion. With McLaughlin's guitar on one side, and Goodman's violin on the other, the two musicians begin to trade licks with Jan Hammer's keyboards, which are right in the middle. The sounds just build and build. Cobham taking over for a short solo about ¾'s of the way into this. Then, slowly, it all comes back together for the final devastating moments of this Jazz fusion masterpiece.

8. Sanctuary (5:02) - Slow and haunting. A nice change from the mental thunderstorm that comes just before it. This song has been described as "brooding" and it features Hammer's mini-moog in a very expressive way.

9. Open Country Joy (3:53) - Starts off with some soft violin and mild percussion before exploding into an outright jam of McLaughlin, Goodman, and Hammer. All the while, with Cobham and Laird holding down the groove. A couple of interesting twists and mood changes await the listener.

10. Resolution (2:09) - Rounding out the album, this short 2 minute track sounds like the opening to a larger, possibly unfinished work.

I can easily recommend this selection to anyone intersted in Jazz-Rock Fusion. It is truely a Masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Report this review (#181615)
Posted Wednesday, September 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds of Fire

I own this lp record for a week now and I'm enslaved! I'm not a pro in the jazzrock/fusion erea, but this sounds realy good! Mahavishnu Orchestra sounds as a jazzrock group with solo's from both guitar, violin and keyboards. Also the drummer does a great job here, inspiring I'd say. Some themes are played with guitar and violin playing the same theme giving it the Mahavishnu sound. Also very noticable is the dissonant sound of lots of the compositions. Some themes remind of the better themes of King Crimson like the maintheme of Circus. A heavy dark jazz experience that's very interesting from the beginning till the last piece. No vocals here - just superb musicanship. This record does not contain easy listening tracks because of three elements; unlogical themes, extreme musicanship during solo's and the heavy atmospheres during the bit more quiet tracks.

The recording is 100% perfect, it is a good example for the possibilities of its time. Some songstructures are missing though. More pieces of only one theme are played as complete compositions. What I like about that is that the atmosphere of every song keeps in tact over the whole song.

For me a great introduction in jazzrock/fusion. Highly recommended! Five stars!

* Edited. Okey, i still like this album, but I don't think it's nearly as pleasant as my other 'masterpieces', so I'll rate it four stars in stead. Still recommended.

Report this review (#190093)
Posted Friday, November 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars Not being a musician myself I can't deny the sheer musical ability displayed on this album but, not being a musician myself, I also can't completely appreciate the entirety of the album. The majority of the tracks are nothing but enjoyable (One Word is fantastic) but as the album proceeds the tracks lose their edge. The last three tracks, in fact, fail to hold much interest and are less the a fitting end considering what proceeded them. It breaks down like this: if you yourself are a musician then the album is essential, if you are specifically looking for instrumental skill and fusion then this album is an excellent addition, if you don't fit in either company I'd recommend the album but in doing so I'd let you know that it's good music but you don't need to have it. A solid 3 out of 5.
Report this review (#192698)
Posted Friday, December 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the 2nd of two studio lp's from the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, and not unlike their 1st, it's a musical masterpiece. While I think the debut was really McLaughlin's time to shine, on BOF it's Billy Cobham who shines brightest. So bright, actually, that I think this is the definitive drummer album! If there are any drummers here who haven't heard this album for some unholy reason, get it today!

If you're already familiar with the debut and liked it, it's almost impossible to dislike this album. The sounds, energy and improvisation is similar on both albums, but it's obviously still fresh because you can't really find anything like it anywhere else! And I almost forgot: if you didn't know, these guys can play...

There's some parts on Birds of Fire I think you definitely should check out. Pay special attention to Cobham's drums just before and during McLaughlin's solo on Miles Beyond. The interplay between the two is nothing short of astounding. The frantic duel between guitar and Goodman's violin on Celestial Terrestrial Commuters is worth noticing. Rick Laird plays his only proper solo, which is incredible, with the group on One Word... yeah, too many high points for me to list. Go listen to the album already!!

Report this review (#200605)
Posted Sunday, January 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Since I am no musician and I can't count time signatures I can't fully enjoy this release which is full of technical prowness. But " Birds of Fire " goes beyond being complex for it's own sake and showing off , this guys were breaking barriers at the time and that's a fact.

This record is a bit more polished than " The Inner Mountain Flame" but it offers the same features: Godspeed solos by John Mc Laughlin and Jerry Goodman , incredible precision on the kit by Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer including the Mini Moog on the record. The opener is one of the most fierce and earthshaking numbers ever. The interplay between Cobham Mc Laughlin and Goodman is insane!! The good thing about the album is that there are some shorter and more relaxing numbers in the middle like "Thousand island park" which includes acustic guitar and piano work.

Setting a contrast "Hope" has quite a frightening mood , mostly given by the violin and the subtle crescendo the song has. "One Word" is probably the less structured number of the bunch , as well as the longest taking 1/4 of the album. The song reminds me of the "Get up With it" album by Miles. Jan Hammer and the Mini Moog get a solo spot here , but the bass lines are the main feature to keep me entertained for 10 minutes Rick Laird stoles the show here! There is a little drum solo in the middle until the groove returns , nothing special about it.

On the first couple of times I heard "Birds of Fire" I was kind of dissapointed because the last 3 songs smelled like filler and lacked the intensity of their debut. But listen after listen I realized that their goal is to keep some balance on the record. My favourite of them is "Open Country Joy" because it has a pastoral mood that is quite rare in a MU record.

In the end , I can't say that Birds of Fire is the best Jazz Fusion record of all time since I have some other favourites first. But sure is a genre defining album and lives up to it's expectations.

Report this review (#215865)
Posted Thursday, May 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Because 'Birds Of Fire' is the best Jazz Rock album in PA charts? Clearly... Because 'Birds Of Fire' is the best Jazz Rock album between the albums of scheduled Jazz Rock bands/ artists of PA! Simply, no?

Ok, the music is great and the atmospheres are great. 'Birds Of Fire' is, in my opinion an easy album, at the level of a POP album... Only that 'Birds Of Fire' is a true masterpiece of Jazz Rock and Jazz! This because it is naturally for a musians like this conceive an album of this sublime level. Certainly the first track 'Birds Of Fire' is one of the more close to my vision of Prog that a human mind have conceived and 'Birds Of Fire' is sure one of the more close to my vision of Prog albums. But this is not sufficient to establish if 'Birds Of Fire' is a masterpiece or not.

In my other vision 'Birds Of Fire' is also one of the first Neo Prog albums because a perfect interpenetration of diverse type of music styles and musical conceptions... Mozart Vs Chet Baker... Jimi Hendrix Vs Chopin... Bach Vs Chinese music... Jazz Vs Folk... Folk Vs Heavy Rock... etc... etc... etc... And all with a superbe naturally that only big musicians have in possess!

In this album it is difficult to have a preferred (perfect) song because all the songs are magical and mythical... Also because all the songs of 'Birds Of Fire' are perfect hymns!

This is my sentence of one of my favourite all time albums!

Report this review (#218785)
Posted Friday, May 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is a solid follow-up to the massive overhaul that is INNER MOUNTING FLAME. There's a lot of great material on this album as well, but hearing the debut album first soured some appreciation I have for BIRDS OF FIRE. This shouldn't happen though since BIRDS OF FIRE has plenty of awesome songs like the title track, ''Celestial Terrestrial Commuters'', ''Hope'' and ''Resolution''.

I think my overlying problem comes from the fact that BIRDS OF FIRE sounds very similar to the debut in plenty of spots. I feel the first three songs here copy the pattern found on the first three song of the debut, just shorter. ''Thousand Island Park'' is the acoustic track of the album, sort of mimicing ''A Lotus...'' from IMF with the violin being traded for a stand-up bass and the overall song being a bit more boring. However, I find this just a small peeve I have.

Sometimes, songs can drag. ''One Word'' and ''Sanctuary'' are notorious for this aspect as they are two of the longest songs here. ''One Word'' is excellent in spots (particularly the very end), but the confusing, dry drum solo, the noneventful bass solo (the only thing I like about them is that Cobham and Laird have their own solos finally), and the general pace of the piece make it very hard to sit through; at almost ten minutes, the length makes it harder.

I feel BIRDS OF FIRE tried to outdo INNER MOUNTING FLAME, yet fails on a couple of counts. Other than the unnecessarily long solos, this is a very good album to pick up. I have the (dis)advantage of hearing INNER MOUNTING FLAME first, so this one will never sound as good to me, but I'm willing to stand behind it nevertheless.

Report this review (#221485)
Posted Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars 'Birds of Fire', the followup to the incredible debut album, is as good, in some ways perhaps better, than 'Inner Mounting Flame', the jazz fusion masterwork. This second album begins with a gong and then we are off with John McLaughlin's relentless inimitable guitar style. Once again the album is fully instrumental with some of the best virtuoso musicianship of the genre. This band virtually wrote the book on jazz fusion and there are nods to the work and influence of Miles Davis, particularly on the track Miles Beyond, paying homage to the landmark album 'Bitches Brew' from the jazz legend.

The music is a fusion of heavy guitar, using jazz metrical patterns, Indian influences and a dash of Celtic thrown into the mix. The music ranges from intense and off kilter with a range of time signatures, to a beautiful and melancholy pathos. That is the same style as the debut album but this time the sound seems more refined and easily accessible to the average jazz fan. It does not feature the absolute best of MO but as a whole it is a tighter package.

Goodman is once again incredible on violin and the keyboards of Hammer feature a range of crescendos and allegros intermixed with the frenetic guitar of John McLaughlin.

Highlights include Birds of Fire, Miles Beyond (Miles Davis), Thousand Island Park, One Word and Sanctuary.

There are other highlights interspersed in the other tracks but it needs to be listened to as a whole to fully appreciate the innovation and ferociously original style of the band. This album is as legendary and highly revered in the jazz world as the debut album, making the band the revolutionary progenitors of jazz fusion.

The CD does not include any bonus feature tracks which is maddening as it is very short for a CD. But it is still a great musical experience and worthy of at least 4 stars. I am not a huge fan of this genre but I can appreciate the musicianship and originality.

Report this review (#223180)
Posted Thursday, June 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
TGM: Orb
3 stars Birds Of Fire, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1973

How you judge two albums like The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds Of Fire against each other is, for budding rock critics like me, a conundrum. OK, I like the former a bit more, and guess I have done for a while, but the exact comparisons escaped me for a while. Well, here we go: It's stronger in that McLaughlin has pulled his guitar ideas together into a more compact form, Jan Hammer has moved onto to Moog as well as e-piano, and the band's a bit more unpredictable. Where it suffers in comparison is that it's more of a jazz/rock record and less of an art one: for the clever and classy puzzle content of pieces like Dawn or The Dance Of Maya we just get more fun, often novel and always well-played jazz/rock material (and the track order is baffling sometimes). So, the preference goes, I think, by listener. If you love twisted e-piano and completed the original monkey island with no reference to internet advice at all, I'd start with the former, if you think you're just looking for great jazz/rock with a bit of moog thrown in, this is the cookie. I'm a synthesis of the two, so, really, I can say that The Inner Mounting Flame is my favourite, but this one really deserves no less than the same rating, if I'm working as objectively as I can.

Cobham's gong (I think; don't trust the non-drummer writing this review) crashes are the album's statement of intent, heady, mystic sounds from under which McLaughlin's twisted, distorted, reverent guitar creeps, and Jerry Goodman launches his serpentine violin assault, before Cobham single-handedly redoubles the pace with his blistering percussion work and choice fills, and McLaughlin launches into a rare state of electric-heroism, played off by Goodman's twisting violins and a brief funk-gelled interlude featuring Hammer's first effective moog entrance and a fantastic Laird bassline, and now Goodman's serpentine theme returns; the denouement was but an illusion, and the band is now an altogether, all barrels firing, broadside of insane musicality and mood without ever losing touch with a classy structure and main theme, escalating the explosive Birds Of Fire into their self-destructive disappearance. Eh, a fade is admittedly almost a disappointment at the end of it, but it fits the title's connotations, and I really can't complain after they've given us such a mind-blowing opener.

Miles Beyond, a tribute to the great Miles Davis, offers us something quite different, a quietly upbeat electric piano introduction and a subtle McLaughlin guitar noise playing off against it, before Laird pulls off one of his cleverest bass performances, setting us up for a thick block-bass explosion, Jerry Goodman putting out a near-country flavoured part to which McLaughlin attaches a tantalising little tail and from which McLaughlin's able to pull out the weirdest miniscule picked interplay with Hammer's main theme. I mean, this is a guitar-performance and a half, electric shredwork predicted by delicate, tingling acoustics, but with no sense of it at the time; Jan Hammer is the ideal prop for the piece, Cobham's drumming is an ideal mix of touch and fire. Again, an example of the sort of piece that shows the Mahavishnu Orchestra's talent ? not only as near-unparalleled players, but also as thoughtful arrangers and intelligent musicians.

Celestial Terrestrial Commuters gives us a bit of a break from the clever back-thought, and that's good too. Variety never hurt anyone. Anyway, the main theme, a roaring McLaughlin guitar part, is the most memorable riff I've yet to hear from the MO (and as a Brubeck fan, I've increasingly come to think that sort of melodic sensibility, even in jazz, is crucial to creating good stuff), and the solos, Jan Hammer on a brass-like moog (he really uses the non-fixed nature of the instrument to good effect in the relationship between his first obvious solo and his second more subtle one ? it's different somehow, the same base sound, but it's certainly not the same actual sound), McLaughlin's twisty guitar runs and Jerry Goodman's snaking violin entwined together in a sort of adjectival overload, and all the while a rhythm section with Rick Laird's calm reserve and Billy Cobham's full I AM A DRUMMER attitude coming into play. I mean, as I said, this piece isn't maybe as subtly clever as the previous couple appear to be, but there's a lot of thought clearly going into the way the solos work together, the main theme is great, the solos are great. What else do you need for a great song?

Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love is a twenty-second flash of moog underpinned with various guitar, bass and violin feedback. Pure weird as an inclusion ? maybe just offering Hammer somewhere to show off his skills without the pretence of musical relevance, and it sort of leads nicely to the subdued Thousand Island Park, but really a novelty piece like this was not meant to be put in the middle of the album. It's not bad, but novelty pieces go at the start or end, or the start of sides or something ? it's just a terrible place for it.

The one area in which Birds Of Fire really smokes its predecessor is the quality of the acoustic piece. Lush as A Lotus On Irish Streams was, Thousand Island Park has an acoustic guitar-driven attack and sort of American-mysticism flavour. Rick Laird's thick, but delicate upright bass plays off over the top of McLaughlin and Hammer's interweaving acoustic and grand piano lines, coalescing from their tentative interplay into full-speed mystical affairs, challenging each other to come up with something more impressive and yet still delicate, and just about every line is met with something just ever so slightly more distinguished. How do you follow something like that? Apparently with what the CD booklet fairly terms proto-speed metal. Hope is a two minute or so jam, with one very well-played Goodman theme underpinning the whole thing, and a menacing, thick and threatening rhythm section (I mean, OK, the rest of the titles appear very fitting, so I'll forgive them, and in the context of its spiritual trilogy with Sanctuary and Resolution, it seems much more fitting), and a slowly building McLaughlin contribution, along with a flourish or two of twinkling electric piano in all this chaos. Again, a fade; previously, it didn't matter so much, and it's hardly my favourite piece on the album anyway, but really, MO is a jam/jazz-band, and sometimes I want to hear their idea of the conclusion of a piece, not just the two minutes of bleak build-up.

One Word is probably the album's deciding factor for a listener, I'd guess. Cobham is given centre-stage, with his water-fall flourish turning into a smoking, subtle, brilliantly played and incredibly fast bit of drum soloing over which the rest of the band initially contributes mysterious themes, and then brief quality solos over a good Laird bass. Laird's bass solo is one of the album's better moments, and it's nice seeing his usually masked and murky obligatory bedrock status transformed into a sort of rhythmic lead, with a really nice amount of contrast and a fantastic sound. Great stuff, Mclaughlin puts his pyrotechnics to rest and switches to an upbeat, classy, and fantastic funk-styled tone, which he's able to replace with his archetypal unanticipated solo working off against Hammer (now firmly on moog) and Goodman (a real gem of a distorted violin solo coming off in the mix), and suddenly, a sort of false conclusion leads us onto Cobham completely solo; he's focussed, sharp and continues to give a real impression of musicality. OK, it's not my favourite drum solo ever, it's not even his best solo, and its impact really does depend on whether you're ready for it, but it's good, and the return of the whole unit over this jerky, energetic rhythm and a thin Laird bass which allows Cobham to continue his centrality for brief soloing bursts preparing for different parts of the previous music to be reprised. And we get to see a real ending, which is always great. A very draining piece, and in light of the following piece and its position in the album, its impressiveness and quality is almost excessive. I am actually just taking a break mid review and mid listen to go make coffee so I can treat the following number without my head feeling like it's going to break. A rare occasion where a strong track is a liability, but man, what a liability!

The reason One Word's positioning isn't maybe the best is that Sanctuary goes out of its way to be quite haunting, dark and unrelenting. McLaughlin's weepy guitar (somewhat reminiscent of Miles Davis' slower trumpet parts) and Goodman's violin twine together in a smooth, balladic fashion and work on squeezing out of every note all possible emotion and movement. A weird flute-like lead appears from somewhere, and I'm really not too sure where, Goodman, possibly, Hammer, possibly, McLaughlin, possibly, and it takes one of the album's finest solos, a moment of real emotion trapped within the pounding sketch of Cobham's drums. Even the ending offers only a limited sense of resolution. This piece is challenging, and there are a couple of really great ideas in there, but I can't say it's one I ever feel like listening to independently, and in the album's context it's almost painful to endure. I just don't like this one, maybe I just don't get it; it could be a real gem in another context, I sense, but for this album, it's five minutes of music that I can only think of as accomplished, not as enjoyable.

Open Country Joy, thankfully, is a complete reversal of fortunes, and the best piece of the album, opening pastorially with a low-key McLaughlin guitar, gentle, drifting piano and a quiet violin. Cobham shifts around a bit on a select kit and it resolves itself in a gentle blur. And then it hits you. Stomach, brain, heart, everywhere. Worth the price of the album. Just make sure you've got the volume pretty loud when you first hear this one. A short section for my favourite track, but sometimes it's just not worth spoiling the initial impact to make the review a bit more complete.

Resolution is the album's third menacing piece and also its conclusion, but this time it works, with a really insistent bass rhythm, a detached and precise drum marking it, a gradual development by McLaughlin and Hammer from certain anger into a real soul-searching declaration of intent. As far as the album's perceived mini-story of personal philosophy and spiritual development goes, it's a great ending choice.

So, not the consistency I think the first album had, there are a couple of tracks that are really out of place ? whether the stunning One Word or the fun, but nonetheless novel, Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love. However, rearranging these ones to the end and start removes some of the album's other enormous strengths. Additionally, there's one piece that is strong independently, but so draining as to be really out of place among such bursting-with-energy companions, and just too draining to be listened to independently. And there are a couple of moments that are just not as good as the others on the album. So, that's going to make this album a 'mere' four stars.

However, in case the first half of the review didn't stress it enough, this is a brilliant jazz/rock album. Six of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's crowning achievements, some real development in terms of sheer musicality from the already mind-bending debut, and a sense of the emotional power and compositional, or at least arrangement-based, talent that makes this band so highly regarded even among, essentially, rock fans.

Rating: Four Stars, 12/15 (for comparison, The Inner Mounting Flame is a 5 stars, 14/15, but really, either album is a good starting point) Favourite Track: Open Country Joy

Edit: cut to three in accordance with my newfound cruelty. It's as good an album as I conveyed in the review, probably, but I wanted four and five star albums to be a slightly more exclusive plateau and with the album's structural issues and weak points, I figured this should possibly go down... very much worth having, anyway.

Report this review (#223203)
Posted Friday, June 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I hesitated long and hard before daring to tackle this monster mainly because I remember the day in 1973 when I bought this fresh off the vinyl shelves where it caused a major hoopla in rock circles and I am glad to see that the furor has not abated since. It was without a qualm, the most insane album at the time, the exhilarated confidence of supreme musicians blistering their way into the deepest prog abyss "with the mission to go where no one has gone before". Impact? Like really! The devastating title opener instills an immediate blizzard of technical prowess welded to some wizard playing. MacLaughlin's brash guitar licking power flames of sublime expression, while legendary drummer Cobham bombards with his usual grandiloquent style. "Miles Beyond": the title implies a Miles Davis feel coz it's a Miles Davis comp! The drums are pure bedlam and the guitar raging like a phosphorus canister. "Celestial Commuters" is brief and torrid; Hammer's astounding synth buzzing like a manic bumble-bee, Baba and violinist Goodman exchange some ferocious solos, while Laird's bass lurks in the background. The next twenty-two seconds are some of the oddest atmospheric stuff you will here, a mere appetizer for the majestic "Thousand Island Park" , a hypnotic oasis with mid-eastern motifs, some Iberian influences (the almost flamenco picking THE man), piano swings and most astoundedly, a clever melody! Laird shows a glimpse of his talent on the 4 string beast. Tremendous music. The barely 2 minute "Hope" is a colossal melody that veers into the neo-classical, led by the transcendent violin, an upward swirling vortex of pure emotion that is simply spellbinding. The epic arrives "One World" with a drum roll straight from Nirvana, a polyrhythmic hyper-shuffle that is downright scary, the 3 soloists defiantly blazing with utter zeal often at breakneck speed, with occasional pools of calm technical mastery (as the brief and insatiable Laird solo), whilst Cobham urges it along with apparent ease. Simply ridiculous, a lesson in percussive bliss! The guitar, the violin and the synth chase each like some bullying brats playing tag in the schoolyard, whipping, lashing and devouring all in one session. Cobham shies not away from extolling his prowess, wolfing down a solo that will excite and confuse. When many of us here rightfully go gaga over him, here is why! The jazz purists at the time hated everything jazz-rock but this was the album that convinced them of their biased idiocy, the technical merits alone sufficed. Case in point! As if that was not yet their last word, "Sanctuary" remains another highlight track, scratching their musical spires through the clouds of lofty creativity, a living organism of sound and emotion, very laid back and showing skills of restraint, as well the power and the fury we know and love. Goodman showcases his immense talent with classy reserve. "Open Country Joy" has been a perennial fave since day one, a breezy, loopy affair that enchants and illuminates, Hammer's e-piano and the suave violin carving delicately with elegant precision which suddenly erupts into a volcanic storm where once again each soloist gets to out do the other, a real "shootout at the fantasy factory" prog style, The slight country fiddle adds so much gracefulness to the proceedings, a total open joy. The grandiose "Resolution" closes out this masterpiece of music, all genres combined. For those few of you who do not get it, perhaps its time to refine what your concept of good music is. This is Miles (oops!) beyond just good. Obviously in the top ten all-time. 5 Flaming Wings
Report this review (#229010)
Posted Thursday, July 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I came to second MO album right after I finished with the debut one. The same perfect work, absolutely classic in fusion from 70-th.

So -what is the difference? If their debut is generally McLaughlin superb guitar work with highest class support from the band, the second one is different. The music here ( the same style) is a subtle mix between ALL musicians, where McLaughlin guitar is important, but just one of a few instruments. It is very difficult to find that kind of balance, but it was done there!

You can hear a single sound of every instrument, every musician, and at the same time you hear how all this are melted in what we name FUSION. It's like you are the part of magical action, woodoo act. And it works as magic!

For me, both two fist albums are perfect. But the first one is more raw guitar energy, and mainly perfect illustration of his guitar stardom. The second one is more mature and real mixture of magical sounds, rhytms and techniques, one of the best fusion examples we ever had.

Report this review (#235312)
Posted Thursday, August 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Birds of Fire" is the 2nd full-length studio album by multi-national jazz rock/fusion act Mahavishnu Orchestra. The album was released through C.B.S./Columbia Records in March 1973. It´s the second and last album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra mark I lineup of John McLaughlin (guitars), Jerry Goodman (violin), Jan Hammer (piano/Keys), Rick Laird (bass) and Billy Cobham (drums), before Mahavishnu Orchestra split-up the first time. This lineup ended up not being on good terms with each other and it took many years (26 years to be precise) before their failed attempt at recording a third album was released as "The Lost Trident Sessions (1999)".

All involved are highly skilled musicians and they deliver performances here that´s technically incredibly challenging. Stylistically they pretty much continue the jazz rock/fusion style of their debut album "Inner Mounting Flame (1971)". The more prominant use of synths on "Birds of Fire" is the most major difference between the albums. Compositionally the two albums also have a lot in common even though the compositional structures are generally a bit more developed on "Birds of Fire". There are still a lot of focus on long solo sections and not so much on reoccuring themes and recognisable melodies. To my ears that´s a bit of a shame, because when Mahavishnu Orchestra chose to focus on composed parts like they do on "Hope" or in the last minute of "One Word", they are absolutely brilliant. And don´t get me wrong here, those noodling solo sections are very well played and make my jaw drop several times, but too many of the tracks on the album have an unfinished feel to them. It´s as if they were hurriedly composed for the band to have something to jam over in a live setting.

So while "Birds of Fire" is the better album compared to "Inner Mounting Flame (1971)" (which featured even more unfinished sounding tracks), and it features both a strong organic sound production and outstanding musicianship, I´m still tempted to use words like cold and emotionless about it. Too much improvisational noodling and not enough compositional depth. Still a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

Report this review (#239330)
Posted Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is just a fantastic album. The inteplay between the violin and the Guitar is marevellous. The drumer cannot be better. The one who plays the bass is also a really good bass player. The pianist is also a great musician, althogh the piano cannot be here. The first track is really good. Sanctuary is also very good. In some moments a track, I do not remember which, sounds like "Groom" from King Crismson. The album is really a masterpiece and I am very greatful to this page because I discvered it here. I now have the albbum in my car. You will never get slept with this album. Maybe you can drive faster.
Report this review (#239776)
Posted Thursday, September 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Birds Of Fire is a big improvement of the Inner Mountain Flame. The interplay between the musicians is much tighter, the soloing is more purposeful, the overall sound is more dynamic and best of all, the compositions have greatly improved.

Birds of Fire is an excellent opener. The violin and guitar almost dance around each other in this stunning piece. That's what I call musical interaction. Miles Beyond is another excellent composition with a gorgeous groove set by Jan Hammer. Contrary to the debut, the quality never weakens and the songs have a much greater personality. Thousand Islands Park is one of their most beautiful gentle pieces and Hope can almost be called ecstatic. It has a very intense feel of longing and craving.

One World has an almost funky groove, well, you can certainly boogie to it if you would like to do so. Sanctuary is entirely different again. Very melancholic, while Resolution is very invigorating again.

One of the strongest albums in the genre and very recommended. 4.5 stars, as the Trident Sessions are even better in my point of view.

Report this review (#251247)
Posted Tuesday, November 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars A fusion masterpiece. Probably the best fusion album ever, in fact. Birds Of Fire, MO's second album, is indeed an unforgettable piece of music, so rare to find such a jewel. 1971 was one of greatest years in prog (Nursery Cryme, Acquiring the Taste, In Search Of Space, Pawn Hearts, Aqualung, and many many more), and this is the proof. Haunting in many points, excellent passages, face melting solos, and much more is included in "Birds Of Fire".

the first three songs are amazing, all of them played with outstanding and refined musicianship, the melodies are great, which is rare in Fusion, where often there's no melody at all. But the two songs after these, are beyond imagination. "Thousand Island Park" has extremely elegant arrangements, as well as beautiful and delicate melodies, played with the acoustic guitar. "Hope" is another unbelievable step beyond, a brief track, very enlivened thanks to the amazing melody of the violin, accompanied by a furious band that can really rock. "One Word" is another masterpiece, the longest song of the album, so full of solos of different instruments, it blew my mind right away. The following two tracks are great, but not as much as the previous ones. "Sanctuary", in fact, is a little boring, but very nice in some moments. The ending pieces is a great closer, maybe the best closer for a fusion album.

An amazing album, a total classic, that will remain impressed to all prog and jazz fans for the rest of their lives.

Report this review (#282584)
Posted Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars If you thought that Mahavishnu Orchestral did their best on their debut album Inner Mounting Flame then please reconsider this opinion by experiencing Birds Of Fire. This album takes the same basic formula and improves almost every aspect of it!

John McLaughlin and the band begin this record with the excellent title-track that sets the tone and quality bar for all the compositions to come. This performance shows the perfect difference between why I enjoy McLaughlin's style while being somewhat negative about other jazz guitarists like Al Di Meola and Allan Holdsworth. John McLaughlin-penned compositions have a sense of progression which means that his guitar play doesn't feel like meaningless jamming around the same basic theme but instead like a composition where his intricate play fills in the void that is left by other members. It's true that even McLaughlin can fall victim of the useless jamming syndrome, which seems to be impossible to avoid if you're in this line of work, but those moments aren't as common and are far between.

Now that we've got this discussion out of the way, let's breeze through the rest of the album. Miles Beyond is a nice tribute to the master even though this composition does come off sounding a bit out of place with the rest of the tracks due to its unique build-up approach to composition structuring. Celestial Terrestrial Commuters, on the other hand, is where the band returns to the familiar landscapes of the opening title-track which is also probably why I find this composition both highly appealing and disappointingly short. After a brief sound experiment of Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love the music on Thousand Island Park returns to the low key realm of A Lotus On Irish Streams, from , with excellent melodies and great interplay between the instruments.

Hope is another disappointedly short number that offers a highly enjoyable build-up which then fades out only to be replaced by a 10 minute extensive jam track called One Word. The description of this long improv gives an impression that I should find it very tedious but instead it turns out to be quite an intricate prolonged jam. It's true that the prominent bass and drum sections might get slightly tiresome especially during the drum-solo, still it's a privilege to hear a solo spot by Billy Cobham and the surprising restrain of John McLaughlin only shows that less can definitely be more. Sanctuary cools the experience down after the intensive jam by indulging us in the atmospheric realm of meditation music.

The final six minutes of the album turn out to be quite an unexpected change of direction with Open Country Joy sounding at times almost like a country music performance with Jerry Goodman's violin only adding to this misconception. I always get the feeling that this 4 minute composition is played out as conceptual piece where we're literally taken on a trip exploring the open country site, where the sudden bursts of energy represent the spontaneous reaction that we might have to this whole experience. If anything, this track always manages to make me chuckle. Resolution is quite a different story featuring a very strict and almost melancholic sound that might give the impression of an intensional swan song from the first Mahavishnu Orchestral lineup. If this description doesn't convince you, then think of it more as a grand conclusion to the experience that is Birds Of Fire!

***** star songs: Birds Of Fire (5:42) Celestial Terrestrial Commuters (2:53) Thousand Island Park (3:19)

**** star songs: Miles Beyond (4:38) Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love (0:22) Hope (1:56) One Word (9:54) Sanctuary (5:01) Open Country Joy (3:42) Resolution (2:08)

Report this review (#289343)
Posted Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars One thing about this album and band is undeniably true and that's the fact that this is progressive music. Progressive music of the highest caliber that is. And it's more that than jazz rock/ fusion in my opinion. Ok, of course it's pretty jazzy and in the end it fits in this subgenre but it strikes me most that this is intricate music primary and jazz just secondary.

Another big plus for Mahavishnu Orchestra is the fact that it's a unique group of musicians creating a sound and style that's never heard before nor after their era. The distorted violin is very significant for the band's sound and is the main reason the band sounds so unique. On One Word the band has some resemblance with Brand X, another leading jazz progband. But also here MO is very distinctive.

Other huge tracks are of course the title track, Sanctuary and Open Country. Objectively this is indeed a masterpiece but I will also have to let my personal taste interfere with the final rating. This means I will have to leave it at 4 stars because in the end this is not music I will play for my sheer enjoyment. I will play this only at moments I want to hear something special and unique. In that case Mahavishnu Orchestra is just about the best example I can think of.

Report this review (#290406)
Posted Thursday, July 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The second MO album is generally in the same territory as the first. It features the same line up and once again John McLaughlin composed all the songs. He will be the only remaining member on the next album. One major difference is Jan Hammer has now started using a Moog synthesizer, which contributes to the sound greatly here. The music is a great mix of jazz-rock, hard rock, country and symphonic rock. The playing is fantastic and the sound and production of the album is well done.

The title track opens with a gong. Love the sound of McLaughlin's chorused and phased guitars. Guitar and violin play in unison at points in the song. The drumming and electric piano playing fit the mood of the song perfectly. This track sort of sounds similar to later LTIA-era Crimson. The title of "Miles Beyond" is obviously a reference to John's former employer. This begins with spacey Moog and jazzy Fender Rhodes playing. Drums and bass come in and plays a groove. Guitar and violin later. Some jazzy acoustic guitar at one point.

"Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" not only has a cool title but some great trumpet-like sounds on the Moog. "Thousand Island Park" is just classical piano and acoustic guitar with some jazzy acoustic upright bass. "Hope" is the most frustrating part of the album. It's one of the better musical ideas on the album, but it's so short it almost becomes filler here. There are much longer live versions of this song out there. The song on this album is the musical equivalent of taking candy away from a child.

"One Word" is one of the better songs. Terrific playing from everyone. The drum solo goes on a little too long and seems pointless. What were they thinking? "You know what this album needs? A drum solo! Nobody else is doing drum solos these days." "Open Country Joy" opens on an almost country-rock vibe. Great violin in this part. After a minute the music stops before coming back as a jazz-rock groove with some cool Moog and guitar soloing. Goes back to the country-rock part.

After this album, Hammer and drummer Billy Cobham will start successful solo careers. Violinist Jerry Goodman will be replaced by Jean Luc Ponty, who was McLaughlin's first choice for MO violinist. The group will experiment with orchestras and guitar synthesizers before calling it a day later in the decade. I guess you could put me in the camp that thinks this is the group's finest hour. Definately one of the best fusion albums from the 1970s. If it weren't for the drum solo in "One Word", the short "Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love" being nothing but static, and "Hope" being way too short, I would be tempted to give this 5 stars. As it is, this gets 4 stars.

Report this review (#402098)
Posted Thursday, February 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars I bought this album in 1973. It was one of those records that had a huge impact on anyone who listened to it. I read an invterview with Jeff Beck at the time and he declared the MO to be the best band in the world. Parts of Lark's Tongue in Aspic sound like a group that had overdosed on Birds of Fire. Beck himself started making jazz-fusion records.

To be honest, you either loved this music or hated it. At the time I thought it was incredible and very powerful. It was fast and disturbing. Since then, there have been many imitators so that some of the orginal magic has been lost. However I still believe this album to be a masterpiece.

For me it began a life-long love of jazz-fusion. I started to listen to Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Larry Coryell, Soft Machine, Nucleus and lots of others. The critics state that Miles Davis invented fusion but I think it was really McLaughlin (that's what Chick Corea says and he played with both of them). Davis' groups played music that was very abstract. Birds of Fire had a rock pulse.

The album also benefitted from Ken Scott a rock producer. Scott had produced and engineered records by David Bowie, Elton John, Beatles and Supertramp. The sound was a lot slicker than on most jazz records.

Report this review (#445880)
Posted Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars To some this may be a masterpiece, but for me this album is a confusing and explosive, tense and aggressive.A disappointment in some respects, a work of art in other (more disappointing than good, actually.) "Birds of Fire "is my first experience with Jazz-Rock/Fusion and say I'm impressed and disappointment at the same time.Impressed because the way these guys play is awesome, they have plenty of energy, especially McLaughlin, who is a big guitarrist.And disappointment because the songs sometimes seem jarring and go from nowhere to nowhere, the sound is somewhat inflexible and heterogeneous.

2.5 stars.I love jazz, but I can not stand it here as a whole

Report this review (#446805)
Posted Thursday, May 12, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars For their second album the Mahavishnu Orchestra wisely decided not to try and top the explosive fury of their debut, instead seeking to diversify their sound. The closing Resolution recalls the dark tones of their first album, but other songs show a breathtaking versatility on the part of the band - for instance, Open Country Joy somehow manages to incorporate both gentle folk segments and pulsing funk sections. Particularly notable on this album is Jan Hammer's incorporation of a Moog into his arsenal of instruments, allowing him to add synthesiser touches above and beyond his already important electric piano contributions. I don't think it's quite as groundbreaking as the first album, which is an absolutely essential piece of the fusion puzzle, but it's very, very good indeed.
Report this review (#500468)
Posted Tuesday, August 9, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#512955)
Posted Friday, September 2, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is the true definition of jazz rock; it's on the rockier end of fusion rather than the Miles Davis end, and what an album! McLaughlin and co deliver some of the greatest riffs, most explosive ensembles, and most shocking instrumental virtuosity I have ever heard (particularly in the guitar and drums department). The east-meets-west agenda of Birds of Fire is fuelled by high-energy rhythms and riffs, topped off with all manner of jazzy, oriental and more classical harmonies, and some of the best guitar, violin and Moog synth solos ever recorded on tape. There is only one weak track and that is a 24 second pastiche of avant-garde music.

The opening title track introduces us to this band's seamless grasp of every time signature under the sun, romping along with it's main riff primarily in 9/8. Goodman's violin is of particular significance here, although McLaughlin's guitar steals the show. The more laid-back 'Miles Beyond' is a tribute to the man who pretty much invented this genre of music, Mr Davis, of course. Electric piano is groovy here and the violin performs a pizzicato solo, a technique that is rarely seen outside classical music. 'Celestial Terrestrial Commuters' is the definition of cool; cool name, cool metre, cool harmony, and insanely cool Moog solo. I love it when so much is achieved in under 3 minutes. Then, the fittingly calm 'Thousand Island Park', the album's venture into acoustic instruments, contains some beautiful melodies and rhythmic ideas. 'Hope', which closes side one, builds tension around a single, terrifyingly hopeless riff.

That's all positive, but the real coup de grace comes with the album's lengthier centrepiece, 'One Word', which is basically a high-speed vehicle for each band member to solo in. Because the guitarist, violinist and keyboardist take most of the solos elsewhere on the record, they share the same passage, in which they dual frantically in brilliant stereo surround sound. The bass solo is cool and funky, while Billy Cobham's drum solo is just jaw-dropping.... I mean, really, jaw-dropping. He must be an octopus. 'Sanctuary' is more fusion in the tense, chilling vein, slowly building up into some very dark, foreboding territory (it seems to be a theme on the album that the music creates the opposite impression to the name of each piece). 'Open Country Joy' blends western, in fact, wild-western styles with pure jazz rock, in a humorously jagged way. The finale is called 'Resolution', and is another tune that repeats a few bars until things get chaotic, before the crescendo reaches boiling point and we can all have a rest, especially the musicians.

I'd be hard pushed to find music as powerful as this in jazz, or as masterfully composed as this in rock. The Mahavishnu Orchestra found their niche early, and with Birds of Fire, totally conquered it. This album is an unsurpassable peak in a uniquely thrilling area of music.

Report this review (#564837)
Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars High speed guitars, high speed violins and lot's of chaos and all for the sake to set this bird on fire! This first line is an abstract of this review.

Fusion never has been my favourite progressive sub-genre, but in some cases I just got to try. This birds of fire sometimes reminds me of King Crimson, because of their sometimes majestic sounding, especially in the slower parts. In my opinion these parts are the best parts. Maybe, because they're the most subtle.

This brings forth my greatest negative point of this era of the Mahavishnu Orchestra: the most fast parts -and there are a lot of them- are not subtle at all and a bit chaotic. While I will not doubt the guitarskills of John Mclaughlin or the Violin skill of Jerry Goodman but if they batle each other for the speed trophy, they'll reach chaos. They seem to play just a bit faster then they can control. In the Vision of the Emerald Beyond the Mahavishnu Orchestra plays more tight and is therefor a bit better in my opinion.

I should advise some more subtlety and less speed for this band.

For now, 3,5 stars.

Report this review (#598415)
Posted Thursday, December 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars The second album from this excellent band. And a very intense album it is too. Taking the best from harder edge rock and jazz, this album hits the listener between the eyes. But this album also has it's more lyrical, reflective sides.

John McLaughlin leads the assault of the senses, but the rest of the band is also brilliant. Mahavishnu Orchestra and most of what John McLaughlin has done has a lot of Indian culture and music fused into the backbone of the music and not as some feathers borrowed from India as The Beatles and others did. On Birds Of Fire, the Indian connection shines through all the time. In particular in Jerry Goodmann's violin.

The material is high quality throughout and this makes this album one of the better fusion albums out there. And that is my 100 words worth of opinons on an album I really love. The lack of a killer track or two is my only gripe with this album. Besides of that, this is a great album.

4 stars

Report this review (#606037)
Posted Monday, January 9, 2012 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#659024)
Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars How do you follow such a whopper of a debut album? By doing one a tad better.

I think the first two albums of Mahavishnu were responsible for more blowing out more speakers in home stereos than anything previously. Between Mahvishnu and Return to Forever, the improvisional fusion era that Miles began is in high gear. The Mahavishnu sound is distinct with the unique sound of of electric violin and guitar especially when playing in sync. This album seems to showcase the rest of the band more than the first.

Now for a quick take on the tracks.

Birds of Fire - A fast and furious opening that is one of the strongest pieces of the album. It really shows Cobham's drumming expertise.

Miles Beyond - Giving a nod to Miles's influence. It has a bluesy feel with nice chord structure tone by John with a slice of blistering fretwork in the end.

Celestial Terrestrial Commuters - Funky with some psychedlic keyboards by Jan Hammer.

Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love - This 24 seconds of noodling filler.

Thousand Island Park - Has more of traditional Jazz sound but electric with a Spanish flavor

Hope - A mild (not soft) winding up the scale of sorts, nice mix.

One Word - Here is where they feed off of one another in that true improvisional style. You can hear what makes John such a great guitarist other than his fast fret work, he perfectly fits those little memorable chord riffs in a supporting role, when he is not taking the lead, to complete the sound of the band. This also showcases Billy Cobham, which I believe (not 100% sure) this is the first time a double bass drum is being used in a solo effort.

Sanctuary - A haunting tune of Jerry Goodman's violin, along with guitar and keyboards in a typical Jazz scaling arrangement.

Open Country Joy - A nice melodic song where it gives you the feeling of riding in the country, but then they break into a furious bantering session off of one another (soon to become the staple of most Jazz fusion). Then you are suddenly back on the country road again. Great trip!

Resolution - A guitar chord style sound that seems to be driving to find a climatic crescendo that never quite finds it but keeps searching upward for it.

It would be easy to merge this and the first album as one, but I will give this one the edge as it helped defined the next phase of Fusion that Miles started. It gets a 5.

Report this review (#815229)
Posted Tuesday, September 4, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars As I am growing older and mellower, I have less and less love for "noisy", and especially for neurotic music. You don't have to have to streak around with foaming mouth to be eloquent; and you don't have to mount a brutal sonic assault to express your musical ideas.

I'd like to say something positive about Mahavishnu Orchestra in general and the Birds of Fire specifically, but it's become way too irritating and unbearable to listen to! I'll just leave 3-star review to recognize the Mahavishnu Orchestra's, apparently, positive influence on a number of great musicians that came into prominence, following the footsteps of this band.

Report this review (#841049)
Posted Saturday, October 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars For their second album the Mahavishnu Orchestra wisely decided not to try and top the explosive fury of their debut, instead seeking to diversify their sound. The closing Resolution recalls the dark tones of their first album, but other songs show a breathtaking versatility on the part of the band - for instance, Open Country Joy somehow manages to incorporate both gentle folk segments and pulsing funk sections. Particularly notable on this album is Jan Hammer's incorporation of a Moog into his arsenal of instruments, allowing him to add synthesiser touches above and beyond his already important electric piano contributions. I don't think it's quite as ground breaking as the first album, which is an absolutely essential piece of the fusion puzzle, but it's very, very good indeed.
Report this review (#874459)
Posted Monday, December 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars As I tend always to ask myself is some album is essential for what matter (established one kind of genre, help to create a tradition, did something off the wall against its context, etc), I tend to give a lot of 5 and 4 stars. I dont think we have to be harsh with albums to be critic of them. I hardly give 2 stars to albums, in that manner.

For this album, regarded as a masterpiece, and "essential" to the Jazz Fusion genre... why am I giving the three stars?

I guess that there is no easy explanation (also, I prefer their first album) besides thinking how much, already in 1973, Jazz could TALK. I mean... some works of Hermeto Pascoal are full of life and expression, and we cant even begin to talk about Area (1973 is the year of Arbeit Macht Frei). But "Birds Of Fire" are completly technical competent and (repeating another reviewer) cold. No one deny the musicians quality in their instuments, and the good melodies. But this album does not necessarily goes in higher places...

Its a good album... but I cant find it essential. Maybe after more listenings I'll return here and change that... maybe not. Time will tell.

Report this review (#976905)
Posted Thursday, June 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars ''The inner mounting flame'' was really succesful, reaching the top 11 at the Billboard Jazz charts and in 1972 Mahavishnu Orchestra toured extensively, covering almost every possible ground in the USA and also visiting the major countries in Europe.Although shadows of conflicts between the members were starting to appear, the band recorded a second album during August 72' at the CBS Studios in New York and the Trident Studios in London.''Birds of fire'' was its title and it was released in March 1973 on Columbia for the US market, although the album was also released in Canada and several European countries around the time.

There were no particular changes compared to the debut, again the opening eponymous track was the absolute masterpiece of a nevertheless very solid Fusion album, featuring McLaughlin's psychedelic guitars and Goodman's frenetic violins over a complex rhythm section.However ''Birds of fire'' sound less tight and with a few weak moments throughout, of course this was another great album by Mahavishnu Orchestra with some real highlights.A couple of tracks are closer to light Jazz Rock with a more constant use of minimoog synthesizer by Hammer, offering a breezy and airy atmosphere.The rest of the album though offers extreme instrumental Jazz/Fusion with a very dark atmosphere, definitely with a progressive vibe.Classical-inspired violin themes, hypnotic guitars that move towards powerful, psychedelic solos, dense and complicated drumming to go along with some beautiful work on synths by Hammer and the always solid bass lines of Laird.The atmosphere ranges from pleasant Fusion with funky rhythms and semi-improvised moments to adventurous Progressive Jazz Rock with tons of breaks and endless instrumental battles.And the Eastern influencers are still apparent in the compositions through series of Indian-inspired tunes.

It would have been really a miracle for the band if having achieved to reach the ultimate pinnacle of the debut.''Birds of fire'' has rather a bit of a limited depth than ''The inner mounting flame'', still it is a very good album of solid and energetic Prog/Fusion, as around the time many bands started to copy the absolutely original sound of the masters.Strongly recommended...3.5 stars.

Report this review (#978173)
Posted Saturday, June 15, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Birds of fire" is a totally magic record. I don't use to like or listen to jazz rock but perhaps I have just listened to wrong jazz rock. This is a masterpiece. From the first drum smash to the last second it thrills ears and minds to euphoria. I am sure this is rock and this one explores what's possible in rock. So wild and crazy, though wonderful music is seldom heard. Thank you John McLaughlin(guitar), Jerry Goodman(violin), Jan Hammer(piano), Rick Laid(bass) and Billy Cobham(drums) for this weird stuff. You do deserve your good reputation.

Birds of fire was released in 1973 and it was the group's second record. On thing spectacular is in my opinion the violin that whirls around almost all the time just like joyful birds. Every track is worth listen to. The title track "Birds of fire" has a skew feeling. It's like an ordinary song that is twisted is a peculiar way. But the musicians do it so good. "Miles Beyond" then is a calmer one, more harmonic but a very rock song. "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" is one of the best moments. It is edgy and propagandic and then "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love" is a short form of craziness. "Thousand Island Park" is beautiful, and unlike the others a relaxed song, also one of the best. "One word", the records longest one is experimental and powerful, and very jazzy. "Open Country Joy" feels like a joke with some traditional country music and finaly "Resulution" is quite short but amazing and symphonic.

Birds of fire is a record to rediscover again and again. To the long row of praisers I accede and proudly claim: this is of of the best prog rock albums, ever! Even if it's not my favourite subgenre this raptured me. If you consider yourself a proghead, you have to have opinions on this music. Five stars!

Report this review (#1019692)
Posted Friday, August 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#2137708)
Posted Monday, February 18, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars Fire is the ultimate symbol of human dominance. When early primitive humans discovered fire, they planted the first seed for humans to dominate the planet. With fire, they had a weapon, a smoldering, dangerous weapon. They had something to give them warmth. Without fire, the space race would be impossible, nearly all weapons would never work, and cooking becomes a much more devious task. To some, fire might be the creator of everything evil--animal cruelty, war, technological rivalry. Despite all this, fire also represents intensity and energy. For this reason, I suspect, The Mahavishnu Orchestra's two album titles contain references to fire. They considered themselves a band full of intensity and energy, which is a fairly accurate description of the band.

In the early 70s, jazz fusion was entering its prime. Miles Davis' landmark album Bitches Brew singlehandedly created the genre, with members that would continue in the jazz fusion genre, including John McLaughlin. After Bitches Brew, McLaughlin formed The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Although only releasing two albums (and later The Lost Trident Sessions), The Mahavishnu Orchestra became one of the most well-known fusion bands along with bands like Weather Report. Bands like Aerosmith and The Eagles opened for Mahavishnu. Why did this band catch on so fast" They, to the mainstream, were a completely original band unlike anything they had ever heard before. The distorted rock guitar of McLaughlin accompanied with the prog keyboards of Hammer and the violin of Goodman definitely created a unique sound even in the jazz world. The jazz world accepted Mahavishnu well for their virtuosity unique sound and feel, but the rock guitar drew many jazz fans away. The rhythm section of Rick Laird and Billy Cobham drove through all the complex time signatures thrown their way. Due to this seemingly new sound to the mainstream, Bird of Fire had an 11 week stay on the Billboard Album Chart and peaked at 15.

The album begins by mesmerizing the listener immediately. The title track and album opener starts with a gong crash, giving an epic feel about the album within 2 seconds. The gong crashes get louder and a guitar melody fades in. The electric guitar is somewhat fuzzy and picked with a tremolo style. Bass and violin add in creating a melody of their own. Finally, the drums enter making a seemingly simple rock beat but given the time signature, it isn't. John McLaughlin takes his first solo while the keyboard maintains his melody underneath and the bass continues the bassline created by him and the violin. As always, - McLaughlin's solo is extremely virtuosic. The solo is one of the most rock-esque on the album, often playing extremely fast and then holding a screaming high note on the fretboard. At 2:50, the song picks up steam with an extremely progressive feel, but the song ends up reverting back to the original riff and McLaughlin continues to solo. The entire song continues between these two feels and McLaughlin remains the feature throughout the song. The song fades out on the original riff.

The album continues on its high with a composition dedicated to McLaughlin's mentor, Miles Davis. The song is entitled Miles Beyond, and throws references to "Mademoiselle Mabry." That song itself was a reference to Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary." The song opens with keyboard going through a jazzy chord progression. A bassline and drums enter, creating an excellent groove. The first soloist on the song is Goodman, showing that a violin can fit with a jazzy song. The solo is short and everything drops out except for quiet plucked guitar and the same keyboard progression faintly heard in the background. The guitar plucking is extremely fast and up on the fretboard extremely high. During a variation on the riff, Cobham is given a drum feature, since he does not really play much of a given beat and fills the entire time. While Cobham fills, McLaughlin plays a solo above him, creating a sonic frenzy that only Mahavishnu can create. The song closes out on the groove and a drum crash.

The longest song on the album, One Word, gives each member of the band a feature. The song starts with a drum roll, which fades in slowly before stopping and entering into a beat based on the drum roll. A guitar, violin, and bass line enters along with the drums. While the rest of the instruments hold out a note, the keyboard will play a blisteringly fast run. Then the bass plays a driving bassline and faint keyboard lines can be heard along with extremely fast guitar lines. Everything gets louder and louder before reaching a tripletized climax. The song then enters a funky section which features Rick Laird. He solos all over the fretboard, maintaining a funky groove throughout. The solo is reminiscent of Jaco in his Weather Report days. This is his only real chance to stand out on the album without McLaughlin or anyone else trying to steal his thunder. He goes on for a minute or two before settling on a bass line and McLaughlin begins playing chords and the drums get more intense. The chord strumming pattern becomes more and more complex as the song creepingly gets louder. Finally, McLaughlin launches into a solo. He and Hammer trade off between solos. McLaughlin sounds like two instruments because he continually gets panned in different ears. The trading becomes more and more frantic and rapid throughout the song until they just start playing at the same time. All hell breaks loose, yet the rhythm section holds everything together until Cobham launches into a drum solo. He starts just playing the drum beat with some sparse tom-tom hits. Progressively, the solo drifts away from the drum beat and gets more and more complex. However, he still maintains a sense of time and feel within the solo which is free-form. The solo continues to about 8:20, where the rest of the band enters even though Cobham is still filling. Goodman comes in with his violin and joins the frenzy of McLaughlin and Hammer. The rhythm section continues to impress by holding all of this frenzy within the complex time signatures the song continues to throw up. The song ends by progressively getting louder and louder until a drum fill and then a held note.

Birds of Fire shows the apex of Mahavishnu's abilities in their short yet illustrious run in the jazz fusion world. The Mahavishnu Orchestra is criminally unheard of these days and serve as inspiration for those interested in rock and jazz.

Report this review (#2165238)
Posted Tuesday, March 12, 2019 | Review Permalink

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