Power, Passion And Beauty: The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra
Paperback; 313 pages
Abstract Logix Books
Because the Mahavishnu Orchestra has had such a profound influence on the jazz that followed it, the band's story begsno, demandsto be told. Were the behind-the-scene goings-on as memorable as the music the players made together? Mahavishnu devotees, and those curious to find out what all the fuss is about, will be eager to read the real story.
They won't, however, read that story here. Instead, Walter Kolosky may have done the band, and John McLaughlin in particular, the ultimate favor: approaching the story in a way that focuses on the music rather than the personalities involved.
Power, Passion And Beauty follows the history of Mahavishnu from each member's childhood musical experiences through amateur and fledgling professional occupations. We learn about bassist Rick Laird's apprenticeship with Buddy Rich, and keyboardist Jan Hammer's stint with Sarah Vaughan. Up to a point, the story flows. But the presentation doesn't.
Kolosky presents his information, which is thoroughly researched, in an anecdotal style. He includes numerous quotes from musicians, and others behind the scenes, testifying to how the music changed their lives. He refers to his own life-changing moment more than once. But what's noteworthyand perhaps off-putting, depending on how the individual reader hears the author's voiceis the bombast around the fringes of Kolosky's thesis, and how that bombast sits with a staccato writing style.
The hyperbole that runs throughout the book begins with its subtitle. It's one thing to believe that Mahavishnu Orchestra is truly "the greatest band that ever was. As the author of the book you hardly want to undercut your credibility on the point. But that's what the overstatement ultimately does. Further, if more of the quotes from such visionary musicians as Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny were pursued with an eye toward identifying the effects of the band on their own styles, sceptics and dilettantes both might come away with more sympathy with Kolosky's point of view. Many of these quotes, however, are culled from interviews which weren't concerned exclusively with Mahavishnu, so they don't necessarily throw light on this area.
It would have served Kolosky and the band well too, if he had identified some of his sources in more detail. Don Heckman, for instance, is a long- standing New York Times critic: he knows what's he's talking about. So too does Simon Phillips, who drummed with British guitar iconoclast and jazz-rock fusion pioneer Jeff Beck.
But some readers may know the lineage of Fareed Haque. Moving from such interesting projects as an instrumental interpretation of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Déjà Vu, he currently plays in the jam-band scene, in Garaj Mahal. And is the Rob Thomas quoted in "Homage To Mahavishnu Orchestra" the Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty? If so, what credibility does he lend to the subject at hand? (Perhaps his inclusion is Kolosky's way of illustrating the breadth of influence generated by Mahavishnu).
Kolosky's own point of view is clear throughout the book. One wishes he might bring it to bear more forcefully from time to time. He is, as noted before, somewhat stand-offish on the personality conflicts that arose during Mahavishnu's existence. So as to safeguard access to bandmembers, it wouldn't have been politic, for instance, for Kolosky to have asked McLaughlin about his high-minded attitude to the controversy over composing credits. More than one member of the band has expressed strong opinions about this issue, and to touch on them would paint a fuller picture, and throw light on the events that led to the disintegration of the band.