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Book Reviews

Power, Passion And Beauty: The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra

By Published: August 2, 2006

It would be interesting, too, to learn more about the disenchantment amongst the other musicians over McLaughlin's billing above the name of the band itself. Likewise, a balanced picture would need to address the music publishing issue. How was that particular area of disenchantment allowed to fester to the point it did, where the band's admittedly titular lead gave an outspoken (some might say, tactless) interview and then found the group fractured as a result?

Given the distinctly original nature of Mahavishnu music—Indian time signatures, high volume, adept use of technology in live performance—it boggles the mind that the same personality-based issues that afflicted mainstream pop artists would eventually destroy Mahavishnu too. The irony here may be obvious to those who've read the Mahavishnu story elsewhere. But it would have served Walter Kolosky well to illuminate it for those coming to the story for the first time.

To read of the never-ending touring, within which recording sessions were sandwiched on the run—resulting in aborted initial sessions for the second album, Birds Of Fire—is, however, astounding. For management and record company execs, it was unashamedly business as usual when serving this groundbreaking artistic endeavor. That's odd, given Columbia Records' head Clive Davis' enthusiasm for Mahavishnu. As Kolosky tells it, band manager Nat Weiss never succeeded in ameliorating the deadening pressure of constant touring, and the adverse effects it had on the band's creative impulses.

On the plus side too, Power, Passion And Beauty may encourage fledgling Mahavishnu enthusiasts to explore some of the other musics mentioned during the course of the story. The shadow of Miles Davis looms large in the Mahavishnu picture for instance, and the avid music lover anxious to build a library could assemble one just from Davis' discography and that of the various musicians in his bands over the years—Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and, most appropriate to this subject, Tony Williams, drummer and founder of Lifetime (where John McLaughlin first used high decibels as a tool).

Readers with a catholic and/or objective view of contemporary music may bristle at Kolosky's facile dismissal of new age music. One wonders about the breadth of his knowledge when he seems unaware that the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, as they too explored the outer realms of improvisation and meter, also asked their audiences to exercise some patience. And the omission of at least a cross-section of critical commentary about the group and its members seems egregious.

But if you love the art of music, you can't help but be fascinated by it in all its forms—and that includes how it affects its followers, including those as deeply moved to chronicle their subject as Walter Kolosky.

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