MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — The Inner Mounting Flame (review)

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — The Inner Mounting Flame album cover Album · 1971 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
With Miles Davis, Tony Williams' Lifetime and Ian Carr's group Nucleus, jazz-rock took a definitive shape and started crystallizing to its actual form. Out of the Bitches Brew sessions came two bands that would really further define JR/F, the first being the brainchild of Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul called Weather Report, and the second being the pet project of John McLaughlin (and with Billy Cobham), called Mahavishnu Orchestra, based on the name his guru Chimnoy had given him. Both bands are simply the essence of jazz-rock and both were particularly progressive in their early days, before jazz-rock sort of veered to jazz-funk and later to fusion. With an almost impossible-to-improve line-up in terms of virtuosity, MO's first era was simply flawless, even if it sometimes went over the top and might seem today a bit indulgent.

Contrary to Weather Report (who reigned as a duo but allowed anyone to come up with numbers), MO was clearly John's ship and clearly he was the captain with no back up, coming up with all of the music, leaving no credits to others. Between his roles with Tony Williams' Lifetime and Miles' group, two albums became very much essential in understanding John's evolution: first came the fantastic Devotion, where his guitar playing simply came of age and his brand of jazz-rock was born with the help of Larry Young (ex-Lifetime) and Buddy Miles (ex-Hendrix), than came the acoustic My Goal's Beyond (where he meets Cobham and Goodman), where John opens up to a very wide spectrum, including Indian music. But these albums cannot lead anyone to guess what was coming with Inner Mounting Flame. Even three decades after my discovery of this album, I still refer to it as Inner Mounting Erection, because it never fails to arouse my interest and reach orgasm, at least aural. (Sorry, I just had to do it ;o)) So when TIMF came out, its impact on music took on seismic importance and they became an instant success, as this album was the perfect mix between jazz and rock.

Opening on the McLaughlin-defining Meeting Of The Spirits (a fantastic version of this emblematic piece) with John's eruptive solos flowing out like molten lava, fluid life a river and rapid like the thunder lightning, and the whole group accompanying him effortlessly, bringing the whole thing to an orgasmic big bang. The reflective Dawn, on the other hand, shows a very different and much quieter facet of this quintet, where Goodman's violin takes on the prime role as a soothing pill, even if McLaughlin's guitar manages to pull the track upbeat, before letting it drop to its original level. The aptly-titled Noonward Race is exactly that: a monstrous piece, a 300MPH track where Cobbham and McLaughlin let use see that they're not normal earthlings, then seeking to hide that fact, they are letting first Goodman and his violin, then Hammer's distinctive-sounding synth have their say, the track resembling a jam. Just like Dawn, the track Lotus On Irish Stream is gentle and soothing (after such a brutal Race), where McLaughlin's acoustic dexterity is featured, where Goodman's aerial violin borders the cheesy and Hammer's cool piano is the cement that binds the track.

The flipside starts with a machine gun fire, courtesy of Cobham, and Vital Transformation becomes the alter-ego of Meeting Of The Spirits, and echoes that track's greatness. Dance Of Maya breaks the cycle of hard-smooth rotation of tracks with a slow-developing blues (that transition from the intro to the track proper is one of the best I've heard) where Mc and Co unleash all they got in terms of histrionics, while respecting the format. The following You Know track seems to be a variant of Meeting, but a calmer one, just content to play with the original riff, Cobham twisting our heads with his fantastic drum rolls. The closing Awakening is a bit the alter-ego of Noonward Race, at least in its intro, but even when reaching its apex, its delivers inhumane speed activity that no police radar has been able to measure, even three decades down the line.

How not to give this album anything but maximum ratings, without appearing a fool or having a chip on his shoulder?? This is the album that set the blueprint for so many groups to come, that its historical importance is worth maximum rating, let alone the musical near-perfection that it embodies. Blindly!!!

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