The Mahavishnu Orchestra



The Mahavishnu Orchestra

Postby N2yes » Fri Mar 21, 2008 5:57 pm

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was a jazz-rock fusion group that debuted in 1971 and dissolved in 1976 and reunited briefly from 1984 to 1987. This conglomeration of talent really couldn't be considered rock n' roll by any true standard, nevertheless their ultra-progressive sound entitles them to a thread all their own.

In its first version, the band was led by "Mahavishnu" John McLaughlin on acoustic and electric guitars, with members Billy Cobham on drums, Rick Laird on electric and acoustic bass, Jan Hammer on electric and acoustic piano and synthesizer, and Jerry Goodman on violin. The group is best known for their two most popular albums: The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1972).

This group was considered an important pioneer in the jazz fusion movement. McLaughlin and Cobham met while performing and recording with Miles Davis. McLaughlin was also influenced in his conception of the band by his studies with Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, who encouraged him to take the name "Mahavishnu."

McLaughlin had particular ideas for the instrumentation of the group, in keeping with his highly original concept of genre-blending in composition. He particularly wanted a violinist. As the group evolved, McLaughlin adopted what became his trademark double-neck guitar (six-string and twelve-string), and Hammer added a Moog synthesizer, which enabled him to bend notes, mimicking the phrasing of McLaughlin's guitar.

Their musical style was an unprecedented blending of genres: they combined the high-volume electrified rock sound that had been pioneered by Jimi Hendrix, complex rhythms in unusual time signatures that reflected McLaughlin's interest in Indian classical music as well as funk, an improvisational concept that was rooted in jazz as well as Indian music, and harmonic influence from European classical music. The group's early music was entirely instrumental; their later albums had songs which sometimes featured R&B or even gospel/hymn styled vocals. In the aforementioned two albums, though, the group goes from this intense fusion of upbeat genres (the best example of which is "Vital Transformation") to very serene tunes such as "A Lotus On Irish Streams" and "Thousand Island Park", which are pieces for acoustic guitar, piano and violin, or from low-key to extremely busy in a single piece, such as "Open Country Joy."

Due to the pressures of sudden fame, exhaustion and a lack of communication, the original band began to fray at the edges as 1973 rolled on. Stresses in the band were further exacerbated during a disastrous recording session at London's Trident Studios as some of the players were not even speaking to each other. The project was never fully completed. The last straw came as John McLaughlin read an interview in Crawdaddy magazine in which Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman expressed their frustrations with John's leadership style. Though an effort was made to fix things back in New York, it just could not be done. Almost 30 years later, during the beginning of a renaissance of Mahavishnu's music, the incomplete album from the failed London recording was released as The Lost Trident Sessions.

After the first version of the group dissolved, it reformed in 1974 with a new cast of musicians behind McLaughlin: Jean-Luc Ponty (who had performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers) on violin, Gayle Moran on keyboards, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, and Narada Michael Walden on percussion, amongst others. This "new" Mahavishnu Orchestra (which McLaughlin has reportedly called the "real" Mahavishnu Orchestra) changed personnel slightly between 1974's Apocalypse and Visions of the Emerald Beyond in 1975. The band was then reduced to a four-piece for 1976's Inner Worlds, with Jean Luc-Ponty leaving and Gayle Moran being replaced with Stu Goldberg.

After the dissolution of this version of the Orchestra, McLaughlin formed another group called Shakti to explore his interest in Indian music; following that, McLaughlin went on to form other bands including The One Truth Band & The Translators, and a guitar trio with Al Di Meola and flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia.

In 1984, McLaughlin reformed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Bill Evans on saxophones, Jonas Hellborg on bass, Mitchel Forman on keyboards, and original member Billy Cobham on drums. Cobham participated in the sessions for their self-titled 1984 album, but was replaced by Danny Gottlieb for live work, and Jim Beard replaced Mitchel Forman for the latter period of this band's life. This band's overall sound was radically different from the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, in particular because of McLaughlin's extensive use of the Synclavier synthesiser system.

McLaughlin then worked with a number of incarnations of The John McLaughlin Guitar Trio all of which featured Trilok Gurtu on percussion, and, at various times, Jeff Berlin, Kai Eckhardt, and Dominique di Piazza on bass. He then formed The Free Spirits, a guitar/organ/drums trio, with Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond organ and trumpet, and Dennis Chambers on drums, as well as touring and recording again with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía.

Billy Cobham went on to perform as a solo artist, cutting many albums including Total Eclipse, Crosswinds , the masterpiece Spectrum and toured with the Billy Cobham & George Duke Band for many years.

Jan Hammer went on to collaborate with Jeff Beck together with Narada Michael Walden in Beck's acclaimed album Wired, compose several solo albums and a live album with Jeff Beck and the theme from the hit 80's TV show, Miami Vice.

Jerry Goodman recorded the album Like Children with Mahavishnu keyboard alumnus Jan Hammer. Starting in 1985 he recorded three solo albums for Private Music and went on tour with his own band, as well as with Shadowfax and The Dixie Dregs.

Rick Laird played with Stan Getz and Chick Corea as well as releasing one solo LP, Soft Focus, but retired from music business in 1982 and has worked as a bass playing teacher and photographer ever since.

There has been a significant resurgence in the popularity of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in recent years, with bands like The Mars Volta naming them as an influence. There have been no less than five major tribute recordings released. In addition, a very comprehensive and critically acclaimed book “Power, Passion and Beauty – The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra” by Walter Kolosky (AbstractLogix Books) has been published. It contains interviews with all of the band’s members and quotes obtained specifically for the book from many famous admirers such as Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, the artist Peter Max, Bill Bruford, and many, many more. The book conveys the excitement of the times and the band’s continuing influence on today’s music world.

Something particularly interesting I found out while researching John Mclaughlin's career. Did you know that he gave Jimmy Page guitar lessons in the mid-sixties? Now, that is very interesting indeed!
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Re: The Mahavishnu Orchestra

Postby N2yes » Fri Mar 21, 2008 6:24 pm

Not what you might expect from this electrifying band. Instead, a softer but just as brilliant a performance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lktfsZ-PZo&feature=related
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Re: The Mahavishnu Orchestra

Postby yesman90125 » Fri Mar 21, 2008 10:42 pm

Dude-all I can say is you should consider a publisher too!
seriously this is an awesome band and probably among the best guitarists and Drummers like-Evar--the tidbit about Jimmy page was extraordinary
did we mention Jean Luc Ponty-yeah like the most marvelous violininist I have ever seen-I saw him perform a few years ago and got a chance to say bonjeor-really a nice guy-probably deserves his own thread too
but I digress-Inner Mounting Flame just Effin Rocks like nothing else
hendrix-Page (Howe?) got nothin on McLaughlin and he usualy plays that double neck Gibson with special attention to the 12 string part-I never saw ANY body go that electric on a 12 string-personnaly the Guy is so unassuming ,intellegent ,Polite and soft spoken it's almost wierd-this Guy took over as the MAN when Jimi died-and he is so Gentle
John is still jamming but he does most of it on the accustic now and it still is blazing fast and powerfull in his twilight years he finnaly has the Rock n Roll haircut after being the MR Clean of the 70's-Mahavishnu-Terrific artists-John McLaughlin-AWESOME-possibly the best
another little tidbit-Didja know that McLaughlin Asked Rabin to tour with him once when Al Dimoela could'nt do it? while playing in the AWESOME Band Shakti. visions of the emerald beyond is a dream
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Re: The Mahavishnu Orchestra

Postby N2yes » Sat Mar 22, 2008 2:54 am

I'd love to have a publisher. ; )

I figured it was about time Lightnin' McLaughlin got his due. That is wild about Page and his temporary tutor, isn't it? I sure didn't know until I researched it.
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