Classic Rock Review

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The Mahavishnu Orchestra The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)

Mahavishnu Orchestra-Inner Mountain FlameFrom

After co-starring in some of Miles Davis’ groundbreaking late ‘60s albums and playing in Tony Williams’ Lifetime, guitarist John McLaughlin hooked up with some of the finest fusion players around (Billy Cobham; drums, Rick Laird; bass, Jan Hammer; organ, Jerry Goodman; violin) and formed The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Though somewhat forgotten by the masses, this band remains legendary to anyone with even a passing interest in jazz-based improvisation or guitar-based rock music.

Though each virtuoso player forcefully shines in creating a tapestry of otherworldly intensity, McLaughlin’s amazing chops can’t help but dominate, as he unleashes bursts of Hendrix-based guitar fury during a series of sizzling solos.

Whether shredding away or letting loose with blasts of soaring melodicism, McLaughlin’s jaw dropping technique is consistently astonishing. Each of these eight instrumentals are extended pieces (averaging 6 minutes in length) that often rock furiously, but whose improvisational essence is equally rooted in jazz idioms; for two albums The Mahavishnu Orchestra worked this uneasy balance as good as anybody ever has.

Actually, Indian and classical music influences are also in evidence, as the band’s melting pot of styles (which in truth will appeal more to fans of prog rock bands like Yes and King Crimson – both of whom Mahavishnu inspired – than to hardcore jazz buffs) was truly unique and hard to categorize.

Complex and challenging, hard rocking and raw yet also beautiful and imbued with a deep spirituality, it is the band’s superior musicianship that makes the biggest impression. Not that McLaughlin (the sole songwriter) didn’t write some fine songs, mind you, nor did the band sacrifice soul for flash. However, the atmospheric songs merely provided the framework for the band’s brilliant playing.

Often it is Goodman’s violin that provides the album’s otherworldly ambiance, while Cobham’s oddly metered rhythms charge forward with a relentless intensity and an assured attention to detail. Hammer and especially Laird are more support players, but each added essential contributions as well (indeed, Hammer would become something of a fusion star outside of Mahavishnu).

Motifs and melodies are repeated throughout the album, giving it a cohesiveness that is only revealed gradually through repeat listens. Whether on the monumental leadoff track, “The Meeting Of The Spririts,” where McLaughlin’s wailing guitar battles waves of layered violins amid a chaotic rhythmic clatter, or on the lovely “A Lotus On Irish Streams,” a pastoral piano/violin/guitar piece, the album is always impressively well rounded. Be forewarned, however, that this is not easy listening by any means.

Even the relatively mellow “You Know You Know” (the album’s weakest song) has some jagged bursts of atonality, while the frentic “Vital Transformation,” on which Cobham shines, and the surprisingly bluesy “The Dance Of Maya,” are dissonant jam sessions.

Elsewhere, “Dawn” is a soulful softer number that still shreds at times, “The Noonward Race” races forward on a fiery Goodman-led groove, and “Awakening” likewise hurtles ahead with a reckless abandon. Some of these songs may leave you gasping for air, but they’ll likely leave you feeling thrilled as well, for this band can still shock and awe forty years after this incendiary debut first dropped.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | The Mahavishnu Orchestra The Inner Mounting Flame | , | Leave a comment