“You Know You Know” . . . . . : The Mahavishnu Orchestra

There were records that were pivotal in my wanting to play music: Allman Brothers Live At The Fillmore East and Eat A Peach, Grateful Dead Live Dead and Europe 72 and Mahavishnu Orchestra Inner Mountain Flame and Birds Of Fire. 

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was formed in New York City in 1971 by the English guitarist John McLaughlin. McLaughlin had already earned a reputation from from his role in Tony William’s Lifetime and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Besides McLaughlin, the band consisted of drummer Billy Cobham, bassist Rick Laird, keyboardist Jan Hammer, and violinist Jerry Goodman. This initial lineup lasted from 1971 through 1973 in which time they made the aforementioned Inner Mountain Flame and Birds Of Fire, a live album (Between Nothingness And Eternity, recorded live from a two night run at Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, I was at both shows) and a third studio album that was eventually released in 1999 as The Lost Trident Sessions.

I first heard of John McLaughlin from reading about him in The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, in particular Rollings Stone’s review of an earlier McLaughlin album, the acoustic My Goals Beyond. Then I saw ads for the first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, The Inner Mountain Flame. When I bought the album it totally blew me away. If I had to describe it I would would say it was a cross between Led Zeppelin, Ravi Shankar and Igor Stravinsky. Their second album, Birds Of Fire continued in the same vein as Inner Mountain Flame with the instrumental pallet being expanded by the introduction of the Minimoog synthesizer by keyboard player Jan Hammer. My love of the band only grew when I was finally able to see them live and McLaughlin came out playing a double neck 12 string/6 string guitar. So cool!!

I could go on about the complexity of the music and the incredible virtuosity of the players and all that is true. But as I was re listening to this music the one thought I kept getting was “my god, these guys kicked ass”. They could also play with great delicacy and there was usually a point in the shows where McLaughlin would play acoustic guitar. In those instances, the quieter dynamics allowed for a more focused virtuosity.

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at the BBC 1972 – Meeting Of The Spirits/You Know You Know

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at the BBC 1972 – A Lotus On Irish Streams

Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Dance Of Maya


Hope/One Word – The Mahavishnu Orchestra – Live at Bananafish Gardens, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1973

I was luck enough to see this version of the band five times in their brief existence and they were never less than amazing. They were one of my big “gateway drugs” to making music. I hope they inspire you as they did me.

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Posted in Improvisation, Jam Band, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

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