This review is a brief track-by-track survey of Mahavishnu Orchestra's BIRDS OF FIRE ('73). The title track, which commences the album, opens with cymbal, electric twelve string guitar, and synthesizer; then the bass and violin enter, playing the same ostinato. The machinegun speed 12(?) note guitar-violin duet that follows is the shrieking bird, and though 'blistering' is an over-used word, the first of two guitar solos IS blistering, nonharmonic guitar and synthesizer tones added. The shrieking bird duet is repeated several times, but it is the ending that makes the track: 'lava' sonority synthesizer with the appropriate non-harmonic guitar tones. The piece is backed by Billy Cobham's double-bass percussion. "Miles Beyond" (composed by Miles Davis) enters with a synthesizer pedal that continues throughout. The guitar-violin duet is played as well as Miles would have played it on trumpet. There is a quiet interregnum of plucked violin, the synthesizer drone being an ideal backdrop. However, the highlight is a guitar solo screaming perhaps more than those on "Birds Of Fire". Downbeat magazine likened the runs of "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" to "solar flares" with the most difficult time signature on the album, and the disc's best guitar-violin duet. But best of all is the ascending machine-gun conclusion. "Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love" is a half minute of 'psychedelic' synthesizer, backed by seemingly random guitar and violin sound effects. Acoustic guitar, piano and bass perform "Thousand Island Park' a 3+ minute synopsis of classical, Romantic and Modern 'classical'. "Hope" is well electronically phased; very distorted Rock guitar chords ascending in easy patterns, yet only a McLaughlin could utilize such a variety of textures. The violin, keyboard- et. al.- do well, but McLaughlin steals the show with the best of both worlds: visceral Rock in sophisticated textures. "One Word" is played not by five musicians, but by one word Mahavishnu, a colonial jazz organism. The slow, haunting guitar-violin duet melody of "Sanctuary" is the most poignant passage on the album, Jan Hammer's synthesizer screaming a bird song; yet Cobham coulded do much with the plodding meter. "Open Country Joy' has a bustling middle (of 3) segment, an aural impression of city life, with a brief ascending machine-gun guitar solo, as potent as the solos of the title track and "Miles Beyond". Yet the opening & concluding segments are too pastoral, almost Muzak. "Resolution", the disc's coda is a charmingly simple slow, sustained, ascending guitar and violin duet, with the sonority of "sanctuary" yet perhaps even more haunting. The resolution is the keyboard and drum roll fadeout. Get the reissued CD; it is not merely jazzrock it is the locus classicus of jazzROCK. Five Stars.
Track Listing: "Birds of Fire"; "Miles Beyond"; "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters"; "Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love"; "Thousand Island Park", "Hope"; "One Word"; "Sanctuary"; "Open Country Joy"; "Resolution"
Personnel: John McLaughlin (guitars); Jan Hammer (keyboards); Billy Cobham(percussion); Jerry Goodman (violin); Rick Laird (bass)
The first jazz record I received
as a visiting gift from my
Japanese uncle at his
international division of
Toshiba EMI Tokyo was a
sample copy of Miles Davis'
Bitches Brew. A game
changer redirecting my
browsing habits and collection.