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A Rock Fan Appreciates Birds of Fire
by Alan Brooks
[brookified@hotmail.com]

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This is the 30th anniversary of the Mahavishnu Orchestra led by
John
McLaughlin, and it would be interesting if a new generation of listeners
would tune into McLaughlin. The title track, which commences the album,
opens with cymbal, then drums, electric twelve string guitar, and
synthesizer; after which the bass and violin enter, playing two very similar
ostinatos. The machinegunned speed guitar-violinduet that follows (played so
fast I cannot count it) is a shrieking Bird, and though 'blistering' is an
over-used word, the first of two guitar solos IS blistering, nonharmonic
guitar and synthesizer tones added. The shrieking bird duet is repeated
several times, but it is the ending that makes the track-- 'lava' sonority
synthesizer with the appropriate non-harmonic guitar and violin 'bird'
dissonances. Not to mention Billy Cobham's double-bass percussion--oh, and
the flawless bridges in the track.
"Miles Beyond" enters with sparse synthesizer pedal that continues
throughout. The guitar-violin duet is performed as well as Miles Davis (to
whom the track is dedicated) would have played on trumpet.There is a quiet
interlude of plucked violin, the synthesizer drone being an ideal backdrop.
However, the highlight is a guitar solo screaming perhaps more
than those on "Birds Of Fire". Here the Indian influence is heard in all
its glory--rapid octave change; semitones; turns, the whole 10 yards.
McLaughlin really practiced the night before on this one.
"Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" has the most difficult time signature on
the album, and a guitar-violin duet (with Hard Rock synthesizer between
duet runs) that is the kicker of the album. But best of all is the ascending
machine-gun conclusion-- I always visualize martial artists in action
whenever I hear it. "Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love" is a half minute of
hallucinogenic (but outdated) synthesizer, backed by seemingly random yet
probably well-rehearsed sound effects from the other bandmates.
Acoustic guitar, piano and bass perform "Thousand Island Park", good
synopses of Classical, Romantic and Modern classical periods.
."Hope"s violin has superb electronic phasing; nonetheless, McLaughlin
steals the show with the best of both guitar worlds: visceral Rock chords + sophisticated textures.
"One Word" is played not by five musicians, but by one word-- Mahavishnu, a
colonial 'jazzRock' organism. However; symptomatic of BIRDS OF FIRE as a
whole,"One Word" is not so much about composition as it is about jazzRock
performance; the Orchestra's debut album, THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME is
more consistent, but with more of a jazzy sonority.
The slow, haunting guitar-violin duet melody of "Sanctuary" is the most
poignant passage on the album, Jan Hammer's synthesizer screaming a loud
bird song; unfortunately, Cobham couldn't do much with the plodding meter.
"Open Country Joy' has a bustling middle segment, an aural impression of
city life, with a brief ascending machine-gun guitar solo, as potent as the
solos of the title track and "Miles Beyond". Yet the opening and concluding
segments are too pastoral, almost Muzak; yet, they were evidently chosen for
their contrast to the middle segment.
"Resolution", the disc's coda, is basically charmingly prosaic (yet
virtuoso): slow, sustained, ascending guitar- violin duet, with the sonority
of "Sanctuary"-- perhaps even more haunting. "Resolution" is really a track
fragment (the 'resolution' is the violin, keyboard and drum roll fadeout).
Alhough [as mentioned] THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME is a more consistent
album, Mclaughlin's guitar solos (and-- not insignificantly-- the use of
electronic devices) had not yet matured.
The two bookend albums share a certain format on their first halves: their
opening numbers are their 'best'; their second tracks are their most
accessible; their third are the most virtuosic; their fourth (excluding
"Sapphire Bullets") are 'classical' pieces; their fifth tracks are   performance showpieces.
BOF is NOT my favorite album by McLaughlin-- VISIONS OF THE EMERALD
BEYOND is-- and McLaughlin released more sophisticated material later on.
But if you don't have McLaughlin recordings, get the sister fusion albums
THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME and BIRDS OF FIRE.
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Track Listing: "Birds of Fire"; "Miles Beyond"; "Celestial Terrestrial
Commuters"; "Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love"; "Thousand Island Park", "Hope";
"One Word"; "Sanctuary"; "Open Country Joy"; "Resolution"

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Personnel: John McLaughlin (guitars); Jan Hammer (keyboards); Billy
Cobham(percussion); Jerry Goodman (violin); Rick Laird (bass)

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