Walter Kolosky: Power, Beauty and Passion - The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra
Walter Kolosky's Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra (Abstract Logix Books, 2005) now finds its way into e-book format, which is good news for trees as well as for die-hard Mahavishnu Orchestra fans. In the interval since publication of the original book, Kolosky has conducted further interviews with members of that ground-breaking and hugely influential jazz-fusion band that throw further light on the music, the demise of the classic MO Mark I, and developments in all things MO relatedand there have been a fewsince 2006. New interviews with people who were part of the MO juggernaut and musicians who were influenced by the MO help to add further appreciation of just how unique and indeed life-altering the MO was for those who saw it in all its pomp and glory.
When originally published, Kolosky's book came in for some criticism for his writing style and the lay-out of the book which effectively consisted of quotations culled from hundreds of hours of interviews strung together with faint narrative thread. Admittedly, Kolosky's writing does come across as rather gushing at times, and his habit of constantly referring to MO as "the greatest band that ever was" grates after a while, even if you tend to agree.
However, his tireless, hound-like research has unearthed, without any shadow of doubt, the definitive work thus far on the MO, and it's highly unlikelygiven that all five original members are all in their seventh or eighth decadethat another book with such a breadth and depth of candid first-hand accountsparticularly from the MO Mark I of drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Jerry Goodman, keyboardist Jan Hammer, bassist Rick Laird and guitarist John McLaughlinwill ever see the light of day. For this reason alone, Kolosky's efforts assume historical importance, for those who care, that outweigh any weaknesses in style or format.
So, other than format what's new in this e-book version of Power, Passion and Beauty.... to tempt MO fans to part with their hard-earned cash? Well, for one, updated interviews with the protagonists, which if not quite finally clarifying once and for all why the original MO broke up, must certainlyand more importantlycontribute not only to a thawing in the relationships between the five original band members, but to their own sense of the bands enduring legacy. It's a legacy, as Kolosky points out, that has seen the MO's complex music revisited by rock, jazz, country, world, classical, Indian, big-band and flamenco bands in the last decade.
The needling question as to whether or not the MO Mark 1 might reform for one last planetary hurrah is revisited and left ambiguously hanging by a cosmic threadby the author as much as the musicians themselvesbut it seems like a pointless exercise given McLaughlin's creative vibrancy with the 4th Dimension and the on-going Remember Shakti, not to mention Rick Laird and Jan Hammer's virtual retirement from touring.
A new chapter brings the MO story up to date, with news on some of the increasing tribute bands that are springing up like drummer Gregg Bendian's Mahavishnu Project, General Zod, the Birds of Flame, Treasures of the Spirit, Sapphire Bullets, The Mahavishnu Experience and Dream. Kolosky previously researched just about every MO cover version ever recorded in his book Follow Your Heart: John McLaughlin Song by Song (Abstract Logix Books, 2010) but the list grows.
One of the most tantalizing developments in recent years was the impromptu concert given by McLaughlin and Cobham at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2010. Kolosky faithfully records the two musicians' thoughts on their first performance together since 1984. Additional contributions from from guitarists Carlos Santana, Steve Howe, MO Mark II violinist Jean-Luc Ponty add to the considerable number of the original book's intervieweesat times exhaustingthat spoke of the MO's impact. The funniest quotation remains, however, Rick Laird's original comment on the MO being "too friggin' loud.'
The increased interest in the MO since publication of Power, Beauty and Passion... is underlined by Elliott Sears, the MO's former road manager: "My inbox is filled with ten times the amount of Mahavishnu related material than before. More and more, I hear about high school jazz ensembles learning the band's music in their curriculums. It seems the Mahavishnu Orchestra and its individual members, now more than ever, are being used as the barometer against which all great musicians are being measured."
Kolosky's updated e-book version of Power, Passion and Beauty... will no doubt contribute further to the resurgence of interest in the MO. In spite of its flaws, it remains an essential reference to fans of, oh, alright then, the greatest band that ever was.