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Crate Digger’s Gold: Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire

March 4, 2012

Critically acclaimed as the best of the Mahavishnu Orchestra LPs and rightly so.  This music is classic jazz rock fusion – this is one of the hall of fame LPs of the genre.

The album opens with “Birds of Fire” which is mixes Jerry Goodman’s violin and John McLaughlin’s guitar in an amphetamine rush of epic proportions.  Next comes “Miles Beyond” a clear a nod to Bitches Brew Miles Davis era fusion – mixing funk and heavy metal in a way that works.  “Celestial Terrestrial Commuters”  returns to the burn of the opening cut with more room for Jan Hammer’s keyboards.   “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love” is merely an interlude.  “Thousand Island Park” dials it down with an acoustic presentation of what we have been hearing electrified.  Side one is rounded out by “Hope” which is an interlude/anthem in full electric form.  An epic first side.

Side two opens with a Billy Cobham drum solo and then surges into metal jazz.  All though all instrumentalists are involved in “One World,” this is a display of strength of the drummer and bass player.   The back and forth conversation between keyboards, guitar and violin is brilliant. Then Cobham is back for a wonderful drum solo that is not too long – just enough to make you wanting more.  Next is “Sanctuary” a meditative prayer with a beautiful sustained filled electric guitar solo by McLaughlin.  “Open Country Joy” is the least typical cut on the album, but it is delightful.  It starts out light and fun, not at all heavy like everything that precedes it, but it quickly morphs into a full-scale heavy electric freak out, only to return to the light and airy starting point.  Side two closes with “Resolution” which is the only really dated piece recalling early Sid Barrett-era Pink Floyd.  But hey this is a 1973 LP – one dated cut is pretty exceptional and it gives the LP a kind of context.

I had an old LP that was so beat up I could never enjoy this album.  I recently picked up a decent copy at the Minnesota Record Show.  I never had it on CD so I have never had a chance to really enjoy this album.  It is a wonderful discovery for me.  I am embarrassed that as an alleged jazz fusion fan and McLaughlin fan I have never sunk my teeth into this masterpiece.  This LP was actually a hit, getting to #15 on the pop charts – which is amazing for such complex instrumental music.  But in 1973 the music buying public’s altered state probably was more open-minded. An absolute masterpiece of the jazz-rock fusion genre.  Highly recommended.

PS – how cool is the cover – so early 70’s!

  1. I’m going to take this one for burn today. Few regrets , missing these guys live back then is one of them. On Cb’s fave list for sure.

    • I have seen John McLaughlin live a few times. Both electric and acoustic.

      • One of the musicians CB wants to see. I’ve caught most of the people I really like but haven’t caught up to John yet. On the electric show , did he cut loose with some of that hard playing he does so well?

      • I got to see him play the heat

  2. Guitar Slim Jr. permalink

    Brillant album and I agree with the review – EXCEPT for ‘Resolution’: Syd-era Floyd? I don’t think so. it’s easily my fave track among an album of great tracks. Highly dramatic and yet organic – a kind of condensed fusion version of ‘Bolero’.

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