MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — Birds of Fire (review)

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — Birds of Fire album cover Album · 1973 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
dreadpirateroberts
Cracks in the line-up were already beginning to develop before this album - if a story of Laird and Goodman fighting and knocking Hammer over during a recording session for the last album are true - but you can't really see it in the music.

'Birds of Fire' is probably a more sophisticated album than its predecessor, but sacrifices some rawness, some of the brashness that was so welcome on their debut.

It does replace it with better production and more focused compositions. Opening with the title track, which covers similar ground to 'Meeting of the Spirits' the band start in top gear before slipping into the Davis cover 'Miles Beyond' which is a real stand out on the album, channeling some chilled funk that finally gives Laird a bit of space in the production, which actually happens a fair bit on this release. Here, in the opener and elsewhere, Cobham is his usual impressive, powerful self, especially when they crank it up for the last half of the piece, but he is also able to display his usual finesse.

The introduction of moog to Hammer's rig enables a different tonal palette to appear on the album and he overdubs it on 'Celestial Terrestrial Commuters' rather sparingly, though you'll hear it take the spotlight in the 'Dance of Maya'-ish 'Sanctuary.' Showcasing John's acoustic guitar is the brief and moody 'Thousand Island Park' which also features double bass and some nice work from Hammer. 'One Word' is pretty darn good and a showcase for the rhythm section while 'Open Country Joy' has an almost rude explosion in the middle of an otherwise pleasant country ballad.

It's a mixed album in some ways, but benefits from the changes they made, even as it suffers a little from the steps they repeat. I swing back and forth between three and four stars here, and so I'm putting the half star in. Again, like the Mahavishnu's debut, the classic fusion fan will want to hear this one.
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