Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fusion Week: Mahavishnu Orchestra

This week JazzWrap will take a look at some of the important (sometimes forgotten) groups that have helped shape and expand jazz fusion, prog and jazz rock over the last 40 years.

Mahavishnu Orchestra (group; formed 1970 - disbanded 1987)
John McLaughlin (electric, acoustic guitar)
Billy Cobham (drums)
Jan Hammer (keyboards)
Rick Laird (bass)
Jerry Goodman (violin)

So I have to admit I never really got into Mahavishnu Orchestra when I was a kid. I'm not really sure why. I think at the time the sheer cavalcade of instrumentation was just too much for me. For whatever reason it took until somewhere in my early adult years to actually appreciate Mahavishnu; which is odd considering all the groups that they influenced I really dig.

The mastermind behind the group was guitar legend John McLaughlin. He had just completed recording with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew a few years earlier. Mahavishnu's combination of rock fortitude and jazz improvisation was something that took fans of both genres by surprise. The bands blend of both worlds quickly turned them into the grandfathers of Jazz Fusion and then the envy of rock music fans everywhere.

Since I wasn't a huge fan originally I can't speak with full verve but I can say the group's first album, The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia) is by far the album to own and experience. The full-on assault of guitars, keyboards, drums and violin is unbelievable to hear coming out of your speakers. "Meeting Of The Spirits," "The Dance Of Maya" and "Vital Transformation" demonstrate the unique and highly visceral vision Mahavishnu would pump into each recording. The exploration of sheer force and gentle beauty as displayed "You Know You Know" and "Awakening" remind of me of King Crimson circa In The Wake Of Poseidon--excellent stuff.

Mahavishnu Orchestra would recorded another brilliant follow up Birds Of Fire (Columbia) before going through lineup changes and internal battles before disbanding late in the '80s but their legacy lives on and they have become the benchmark of almost every jazz band wanting to combines the ethos of rock, world and improvisation. Well worth re-examining for your listening pleasure.

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