Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Greatest Band that Ever Was is the lengthy title to a book written by an adoring fan about the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The MO truly is one of the greatest bands of all time…and you may never have heard of them.
When I was in high school, skipping study hall and hiding from Miss Rickey, I would hang out in the library and read magazines. One of those mags was Downbeat and one year they named an album called “Inner Mounting Flame” by a new band as the best Jazz AND Rock album of the year. I thought this has gotta be a good use of vinyl so I told my mom I wanted it for Christmas…and she got it for me. I have been hooked on the MO ever since.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra was actually a group of jazz musicians led by John Mclaughlin (currently #5 on my list of the greatest guitar players of all time, Rolling Stone has him at #49 and Jeff Beck calls him the “best guitarist alive”) that made the crossover into loud rock and invented Fusion Jazz. The band also used and electric violin and early synthsizers played by Jan Hammer.
Here is a video that demonstrates the power of the genre:
At the same time, there was a compilation album released called “The Guitars That Destroyed the World” and along with great cuts like “Buck’s Boogie” by Blue Oyster Cult (this was long before that miserable top-40 hit “Don’t Fear the Reaper”) and “Dark Eyed Woman” by Spirit there was a cut by MO called “Dance of Maya” that I thought was super heavy:
John Mclaughlin was following and Eastern mystic named Sri Chinmoy who gave him the name “Mahavishnu”. The book says that their live show always began with a few moments of silence and then came blasting out full bore. The book also said on tours they were booked as the undercard to bands like Aerosmith, New Riders of the Purple Sage, It’s a Beautiful Day and Frank Zappa. It said these bands did not like following them onstage because of their technical ability and sheer power. I regret that I did not see them live but I came close. In the spring of 1973 I went to Denver with Rob, Dennis and Mal on spring break. We tried to get into a club to see them but we were too young! Probably the only time I got ID’ed at a bar in my life.
Awhile back I bought from Amazon a cheap package called Original Album Classics, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. For $13.88 you can get their 5 original albums on CD. A true bargain.
I’m watching youtubes while I write this…here is another great video…I gotta go: