JJ 08/72: Mahavishnu Orchestra — The Inner Mounting Flame

Fifty years ago Steve Voce found Mahavishnu's admirable instrumental prowess was spoiled by lurching dynamics and crowded ensembles. First published in Jazz Journal August 1972

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This is a most interesting collabora­tion between young musicians who have talent in all departments – technique, imagination and the dynamic purpose of innovators. There’s only one thing they seem to lack: maturity. One has to take the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the con­text of its contemporaries – Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and so on, and when one does one sees its failings. All are virtually splinter groups from the House Of Davis, and it’s interesting to see the elements of Miles’ original groups being tugged into the various corners.

While acknowledging McLaughlin’s skills, I personally find that his musical concept of a group appeals to me less than Hancock’s or Zawinul’s. Whereas the other two use incredible refinements of shading in their sounds, McLaughlin’s friends sound rather wooden and in­flexible, and switch their dynamics with great lurches rather than with subtlety.

That said, one must acknowledge for instance what a good drummer Cobham is, how brilliant the range of sounds the guitarist achieves, how effective Good­man is, despite a very dangerous re­tention of a symphonic-type vibrato. Often, as in Meetings Of The Spirit, the music is too crowded and the singing guitar lines over the ensemble are spoiled rather than enhanced. On the other hand You Know shows a fine use of space and a relaxed form. But largely the music is more matter of fact than that of say Hancock or Gibbs and is the loser for it. Most of the time there is too much noise to no purpose, although Dawn has some beautifully gentle violin.

A Lotus On Irish Streams has every­one trying to grab a piece of Mother Macree’s ass as acoustic guitar and soulful violin combine over some rest­less piano. But the contrasts between pastoral and thunderstruck are a bit too indigestible for me to take.

Discography
Meetings Of The Spirit; Dawn; The Noonward Race; A Lotus On Irish Streams (24 min) – Vital Transformation; The Dance Of Maya; You Know You Know; Awakening (22 min)
John McLaughlin (gtr); Jerry Goodman (vln); Jan Hammer (pno); Rick Laird (bs): Billy Cobham (dm).
(CBS 64717 £2.09)