MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — The Inner Mounting Flame (review)

MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA — The Inner Mounting Flame album cover Album · 1971 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Inner Volcanic Jazz Rock

John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin was the second guitarist to play with Miles Davis on studio, but actually the first one to go beyond jazz idioms. At first he sounded a bit shy, a subtle guitarist, but with time he became a very impressive semi-psychedelic jazz guitarist with layers of wah-wah and impressive licks, notably shown in Live-Evil and Big Fun (although mainly in Tony Williams' Lifetime).

However, once John decided to form his own fusion band, just like Zawinul, Shorter and Corea did, his style changed into a ferocious and explosive style that had never been heard at that time. Some, bigger fans of Davis’ experimental stuff, may miss the guy’s subtlety, but they can’t deny the magnitude of development that McLaughlin did with the guitar.

But that’s not really it, as his guitar evolved considerably, his compositions grew as well and sound like liquid lava still spreading smoke, with the eclectic mix of heavy rock, jazz, sparse Indian influences, technical musicianship and symphonic arrangements, all in all making the unmistakable sound of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. Yes, I said technical musicianship back there, Billy Cobham is the other freak on board, a monster on the drum-kit. The remaining musicians all are talented but don’t really stand out as the former two, at least not in this album; Jan Hammer here plays the traditional early 70s keyboards (organ, piano and electric piano) still missing his Moog, Jerry Goodman is on the electric violin, and Rick Laird on the bass.

Other than saying what styles can be heard on this innovative album, it’s useless to try to pin down a band that seriously influenced the sound of McLaughlin & Co.

What I can say is that future bands would be inspired by The Mahavishnu Orchestra, it can be heard on King Crimson’s heaviest record, Red, the technical approach Return to Forever did on Romantic Warrior, maybe a bit in the eclectic songwriting of The Dixie Dregs, and of course dozens of future shred guitarists were influenced by John.

Undoubtedly one of the many truly groundbreaking albums from the 70s, and one of the best at it. And although in Birds of Fire they’d find a more balanced approach, with room for every member to shine, for me the compositions and the execution of these in Inner Mounting Flame are by far superior thus the better album.
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