Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mahavishnu Orchestra - The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971)

Mahavishnu Orchestra were one of the leading lights of the jazz-fusion movement coming in the wake of Miles Davis epochal album Bitches Brew. The MO's leader, guitarist John McLaughlin had a pretty impressive pedigree as he had played on Bitches Brew and some other Davis LP's as well as performing in the groundbreaking trio Lifetime with Tony Williams and Larry Young. He had also produced some fine solo work, particularly the renowned album Extrapolation. During this period, McLaughlin had become deeply involved with eastern spirituality and religion taking the spirit name Mahavishnu that he would eventually bestow on the band.

This music on this album is truly a display of virtuoso performing, but it does come perilously close at times to empty, self-congratulatory wankery. The uptempo music is played at a blinding speed and with very complex rhythm - impressive stuff to be sure, but sometimes it's a little difficult to warm up to. The ballads are a little easier on the ear, allowing the band to slow down and breathe a little bit. Actually, in retrospect, it may be easier for fans to approach this music than fans of post-bop jazz. Fans of guitar led bands like King Crimson would feel right at home with the blast furnace pyrotechnics of "The Noonward Race" or "Vital Transformation."

Some of McLaughlin's spiritual leanings are brought to the forefront of the comparably calm numbers like "A Lotus on Irish Streams" and the concluding "Awakening." This album came out at a fascinating time in music, when the experimental and the commercial co-mingled in relative harmony and this album is an interesting if not always successful meeting of many diverse styles and passions.

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