Power, Passion And Beauty: The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra
Paperback; 313 pages
Abstract Logix Books
Before the corporate whitewash of the disco plague obliterated a golden age of musical creativity, there was a time when artists with a musical vision, fired by spiritual fervour, could reach a global audience with the full backing of a multi national record label.
Fuelled by previously unheard levels of instrumental dexterity, volume and eastern musical wisdom, guitarist John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra may indeed have been "the greatest band that ever was," as Walter Kolosky claims in this history.
Over the 300 or so pages of this thoroughly entertaining book, writer and self-professed aficionado Kolosky tells the story of the incendiary rise and sudden implosion of this most ferocious of the fusion bands of the '70s. At a time when the term jazz-rock was meaningful, before fusion became synonymous with overblown egotistical fret-melting pyrotechnics, the Mahavishnu Orchestra joined the musical revolution begun by trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane, combining jazz improvisation aesthetics with rock volume and propulsionand a vital third ingredient, Indian rhythm and composition forms.
Along with Weather Report and Return To Forever, Mahavishnu was at the cutting edge of the new movement. The involvement had begun for McLaughlin himself when he was a member of Davis' seminal early electric line-ups, and a founder member of Tony Williams' Lifetimethe first and most riotous jazz rock ensemble.
The author lets the Mahavishnu story unfold through the participants' own accounts, and rarely steps in to let his own, admittedly biased, opinion colour the facts. Complemented by a treasure trove of images, many from private collections and never publised before, Kolosky follows a chronological order of events. He tells the story from the early personal histories of the original band members, through the various incarnations of Mahavishnu, and on to the groups Mclaughlin was to assemble later.
Rather than succumb to the usual headline grabbing gimmicks so loved by the media, Kolosky wisely and respectfully sidesteps sex, drugs and rock and roll gossip. Instead he gathers insightful first-hand accounts of events as they unfoldedfrom the famous and the not-so-famous. Amongst the former, all the original band members give generous input to the author, so the objective stance and authenticity of the book is unquestionable.
Kolosky is rewarded for his honesty with insights of which even the most ardent enthusiast would have been ignorant. Some mysteries, like the events surrounding the shattering of drummer Billy Cobham's relationship with McLaughlin, are not fully resolved. In the case of the self destruction of the original band however, enough evidence is assembled from those close at hand to get an informed picture of the background to it.
The author's unobtrusive style is perfectly suited to his subject. It's clear he has conducted exhaustive research, gathering together practically any previously published mention of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and its music, from a wide variety of sources. From hip-hoppers sampling the music directly, to film scores borrowing whole tracks, and obscure tributes by relatively unknown artists, there can hardly be any stone left unturned by Kolosky in his quest for completism.