For years it's been said around punk circles that the Velvet Underground's first album only sold a thousand copies, but everyone who bought the album went out and formed a band. The Mahavishnu Orchestra's second album, Birds Of Fire
, was equally instrumental in building the popularity of fusion, but along the way it went gold and rode the Billboard charts for 11 weeks. 28 years later, this milestone has resurfaced in 20-bit digitally remastered glory, ready to inspire a new crop of aspiring guitar masters worldwide.
Some of John McLaughlin's exotic spirituality and Jan Hammer's synthesizers seem a bit cloying in hindsight (in what other decade could the tiny noise clusters of track 4 have been put to wax?) but the unbridled virtuosity and creativity here remain undiminished. The stunning sonic embroidery of track 3 (what is that, 13/8 time?) can still knock listeners flat on their backs. It's hard to believe the tune was once called Binkies as Jan Hammer claims. Drummer Billy Cobham's insane pace on track 7 could give any veteran drummer pause, and McLaughlin's controlled burblings carry even more propulsive weight in this digital repackaging. Track 5 offers a warm acoustic respite from the electric onslaught, then it's back to the metallic airiness and swell. The bucolic charm in the intro to track 9 belies the imminent urgency to follow. Frank Zappa no doubt took particular inspiration from this track, as its vibe resonates throughout his post-Mothers albums. Bassist Rick Laird and violinist Jerry Goodman add their own unique brands of support and melodicism to McLaughlin's rich stew. An undeniable classic made all the better by modern sonic cleansing.
Personnel: John McLaughlin: guitars; Billy Cobham: drums; Jerry Goodman: violin;
Jan Hammer: keyboards; Rick Laird: bass.