This is a group that blends genres and styles unlike any other. With distorted guitars and electronic sound this is fusion at its best. This music comes at you with a ferocity that few jazz albums can match. Of course with its fresh style this is a album that challenges that question I hate “What is Jazz?”. Some might argue this is more of early prog rock and I’m sure many prog rock musicians mention him as their inspiration. And they should. John McLaughlin pushes boundaries. Still I would hope jazz music is an open minded community and that we have moved past the notion that too many electronics means we can’t call it jazz. This album is nothing short of a masterpiece. This is the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s first studio release. The group consisted of John McLaughlin on guitar, Billy Cobham on drums/ percussions, Jam Hammer on the keys, Rick Laird on bass, and Jerry Goodman on violin.
The opening track sets the tone for the album we’ve got loud held out chords, drums and keys playing around the vamp , it seems like the ending of a tune rather than the beginning. The tune then settles down and we truly begin “Meeting of the Spirits”. There is a intro and McLaughlin then begins his guitar riff. It pierces through all the layers of sound and takes command of the tune. He continues to shred and then midway through they have a sort of vamped ending and Jam Hammer begins to solo. He plays nice little melodic ideas. There is already so much going on that he just picks the right spots to add a lick. Around halfway through his solo the earlier ideas come back McLaughlin’s riffs and Hammer fades away as the earlier melodic ideas regain power of the tune. Then Jerry Goodman solos until the song fades out. There is so much here you can really listen to this song several times just to grasp all that’s going on.
Next is “Dawn” this is a drastic departure from the first song. This album does a great job of balancing loud music with quieter mellower tunes. It begins with just keys and drums and the violin then comes in with a beautiful melodic line played in unison with the guitar. My favorite part of this is despite playing the same thing. The violin plays around just enough to separate itself a bit. Then McLaughlin begins his solo. It’s just so beautiful he starts off slow and builds his solo riff after riff. Many guitarists have great riffs but McLaughlin is not just laying down things he’s practiced. He’s building off the content he’s already played. He is constructing his solo. Midway through they go into a really cool vamp that elevates an already great song. Goodman then takes over soloing and then we come back to the head. This is not some bs riff music this is rock music grown and mature.
This album contains 8 tracks and all merit deep analysis. As usual with my reviews I will just go over the rest of the pieces to give you an idea of what else this album has to offer. Just keep in mind that good fusion music can be very dense and not easy to take in at first for traditional jazzers. Keep a open mind and a open ear. “The Noonward Race” is another blazing tune with a wicked solo by Jam Hammer and blazing vamps and riffs throughout the tune. Some of the sounds Hammer produces just makes you scratch your head in amazement. McLaughlin and Goodman also solo and do not disappoint. It feels like we are moving so fast that at any moment we are going to head to disaster, but we never do. These musicians are virtuoso’s and are pushing the limits and winning.
“A Lotus On Irish Streams” is another beautiful tune and a change in direction similar to “Dawn”. Everyone has a role and they just play a beautiful piece. One of my personal favorites on the album. Beautiful chords and everyone not only contributes to harmony, but melody. It’s truly a treat to listen to. “Vital Transform gives us a similar feel as the opening track “Meeting of the Spirits” . The sections that switch from fast to slow are a nice touch. Soloists are great, it’s sort of more of the same as we have already listened to on this album, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“The Dance of Maya” has aggression and riffs that remind me of grunge music. Even though this came well before grunge. Also some elements of the blues in the melody its like a distorted, blues/ grunge based song. Lots of changes in direction throughout but we keep that feel of a grunge/ blues tune with McLaughlin soloing the majority of the time. The album concludes with “You Know You Know and “Awakening” both great tunes, but personally my favorite of the two is “You Know You Know” it has a calm beginning and gain steam as the tune develops.
John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra are a joy to listen to. McLaughlin himself is still around experimenting and testing the boundaries of Jazz and beyond. If he is in your area check him out. With such a rich discography and new music constantly on the horizon there is no telling what kind of songs and sounds you will experience at his show. One thing I can guarantee you is it will be one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of your life.