Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time


Numerous jazz/rock-fusion giants roamed & conquered the earth in the first half of the ’70s, none with more immense power than the mighty Mahavishnu Orchestra. Right from the start they generated a distinct sound that blew away rock fans, jazz fans, fellow musicians and even music critics. Their 1971 debut The Inner Mounting Flame sounds like nothing that came before or after, with the exception of the two albums (one live and one studio recording) the original lineup released before going their separate ways.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.




During my high school years, fusion became my gateway into the seemingly impenetrable world of jazz with its rock instrumentation and improvisational music, and the fusion artist that made the biggest impact on me was The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The brainchild of former Miles Davis and Tony Williams Lifetime guitar master John McLaughlin, the original incarnation of the group (keyboard whiz and future Miami Vice composer Jan Hammer, violinist Jerry Goodman, bassist Rick Laird and drum god Billy Cobham) lasted only three albums but their impact was tremendous. The first Mahavishnu album I heard was 1973’s Birds Of Fire, which remains my favorite, but their debut from 2 years earlier is equally impressive. Here was a musical collective that was capable of soft, subtle passages like those found in “Dawn” and “You Know, You Know” as well as mind-blowing ferocity on epics like “Meeting Of The Spirits” and “Vital Transformation.” Throughout it all, McLaughlin makes a case for being one of the greatest guitarists of all time (in any genre), and the others have ample opportunity to strut their stuff, yet it’s not merely a chops-fest. The melodies stick with you as much as the performances. Fusion has often been derided by jazz purists, so this music is more suited to open-minded listeners who believe that music should have no limitations.


Are you a fusion fan? If so, what are your thoughts on Mahavishnu Orchestra? Do you prefer their debut over subsequent albums? Who are some of your other favorite fusion artists?


  1. Alyson
    April 29, 2019

    “Do you prefer their debut over subsequent albums?” – A good question Rich but one I could never answer as I hadn’t heard of them before! Couldn’t listen to your clips over here but hopped over to YouTube and watched them there. I think they would have to grow on me, and very much of their time, but as ever I have expanded my knowledge of music from the last 50 years immeasurably! Thanks.


    • Hi Alyson. I appreciate your open-mindedness in checking out the audio clips. Glad you were able to find them on your side of the pond. Funny, I never think of Mahavishnu Orchestra as “of their time” because they always seemed decades ahead of their time, but I suppose sonically-speaking they are date-stamped to the early-’70s. Compositionally and performance-wise I think they’re in a future millennium or possibly in another galaxy. I hope all is well by you. I’ve been dealing with an ongoing family situation (I know you understand that) so taking everything a day at a time. No Satur-debut this week thanks to a good family occasion. Will return next weekend. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        May 4, 2019

        It’s strange isn’t it how “of their time” means that yes, they were light-years “ahead of their time”. It was the time of the space race and great leaps were being made in the use of new technologies. Kind of came to a head and then settled down again into something less progressive and less challenging to listen to.

        If we believed all the films/telly we watched back then we would have all been wearing silver space suits by the year 2000, living in ultra modern pods and eating an energy pill per day! In reality, the fashion around the end of the millennium around here anyway was for our homes to looks almost Victorian and we wore natural woollen fabrics in classic styles. It will turn full circle again no doubt so the return of prog rock is on the cards.


      • So true about the difference between the “future” we envisioned & reality. I would be totally up for silver space suits if fashion ever moves in that direction. Until then it’s t-shirts and jeans (or shorts, as is the case for the next 5+ months…woo-hoo) for me. As for the “return” of prog rock, it never left. It would be fun to see a full-on prog band become a mainstream success. I know people tried putting that label on Radiohead, and I suppose it’s not completely off the mark, but they always shied away from it. There’s a wonderful band out there called Big Big Train. They’ve been around for a couple of decades, but their releases over the last 8-10 years have taken them to a new level. Dave Gregory, who was with XTC for most of their existence, is part of the band. I know it’s a longshot but I could see them having some mainstream success. Fingers are crossed.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        May 4, 2019

        Hope the family situation settles down again – Mine did as it had to eventually. Enjoy the good family occasion!


      • Thanks, Alyson. Unfortunately the family situation will be an ongoing thing that moves from manageable to critical. We’re hopefully moving out of the latest critical phase soon. I’m glad your situation settled down, although I’m concerned by your comment that it might have reached the conclusion we all dread. I hope that’s not the case but if it is, best wishes are coming your way.


      • Alyson
        May 7, 2019

        Just to clarify, my family situation revolved around me having to look after my mum who has Alzheimer’s – I just meant she is now being looked after well in a care home as I couldn’t really carry on as I was. We are on a journey though and it’s a sad one.


      • I’m happy that she is getting the care she needs and that you are no longer the primary caregiver. My situation is very similar and I completely understand the “sad journey” you mentioned. I do my best to find the happy moments even when the stress & responsibility become overwhelming. As always, sending good wishes your (and your mum’s) way.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        May 9, 2019

        Thanks Rich – Same to you.


      • Phillip Helbig
        November 18, 2019

        So true about the difference between the “future” we envisioned & reality.

        Which is why s.f. great Fred Pohl entitled his autobiography The Way the Future Was.


      • That’s a great title for a book. Any idea if the content lived up to the title?


    • Phillip Helbig
      November 25, 2019

      “That’s a great title for a book. Any idea if the content lived up to the title?”

      He was right on may counts in that the 2019 is not how it was imagined to be in 1940, in many respects. Think The Jetsons. On the other hand, some predictions were uncanny, such as Arthur C. Clarke describing the internet in all but name. He even had a short story mentioning internet porn.


  2. Bill P
    May 4, 2019


    I really like your open minded take on music in the last sentence you wrote above from your Great out of the Gate excerpt:

    “…more suited to open-minded listeners who believe that music should have no limitations.”

    You say that this album is derided by jazz purists. I would submit that any time you have a genre with “purists” then you are observing a dead genre. One that no longer innovates. I play gypsy jazz. There are some “purists” who won’t play songs that Django didn’t play. They might only play with 2 fingers to be “authentic.” They might play a song or two from modern gypsies who carry the flame but hone very closely to the traditional phrases and sonic vocabulary.

    I am aware of this album though I have never really listened to it until I heard the clips you posted. I’m a jazz fan who prefers swing to bebop first and bebop over hard bop by way of reference. I think why I don’t listen to more fusion is that it is demanding on the listener. It isn’t saccharine-sweet pop confections that your brain has heard over and over. You don’t know where the music will go. It zigs when you expect it to zag. It changes time when you are just feeling the typical 4-beat pulse. However, when you give it your attention. When you put away your electronic distractions. When you unlock the key to the puzzle. Then, you will be rewarded with a freshness and a unique experience that you just don’t get with a Top 40 or blues-based rock song. It won’t be a 12-bar or I-IV-V w/pentatonic scale solo.

    Now, this attention is work–especially if you don’t have the musical vocabulary to understand some of the novel time signatures or the harmonic substitutions. Those come with repeated listening in the genre. Even without the vocabulary, much as a child learns through listening, you can develop your own understanding. That said, anyone who enjoys prog rock such as Yes, Rush, or Dream Theater–to pick a few bands that span across several decades–should be able to appreciate the twists and turns of this style. Thanks for an interesting listening experience. I hope your family situation stabilizes and continue to look forward to your future posts.



    • Hi Bill. You made some great points here. Not sure that the appearance of purists points to a dead genre, but it’s always sad when music lovers/musicians put limitations on any genre. As an unabashed progressive rock lover for most of my life, I’ve always had a wide-open view of that subgenre, but there are many fans who put blinders on and end up missing out on some inspiring music because it doesn’t tick particular boxes. I find it strange to learn from you that there are gypsy jazz purists who take things to such extremes. I’m happy to hear that you are much more open-minded than those folks, and glad you enjoyed the Mahavishnu tracks you checked out. I agree that fans of fusion often intersect with fans of prog. They share a lot of musical DNA. Thanks for checking in. I really appreciate it.


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