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|Origin||New York City, United States|
|Years active||1971–76, 1984–87|
|Associated acts||Shakti, The One Truth Band, The Translators, The John McLaughlin Guitar Trio|
|Past members||John McLaughlin|
Narada Michael Walden
Mahavishnu Orchestra was a jazz fusion band formed in New York City in 1971, led by the English guitarist John McLaughlin. The group underwent several line-up changes throughout its history across two stints from 1971 to 1976 and 1984 to 1987. With its first line-up consisting of musicians Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird, the band received its initial acclaims for its complex, intense music consisting of a blend of Indian classical music, jazz and psychedelic rock, and their dynamic live performances between 1971 and 1973.
1971–1974: First incarnation
The band's first lineup featured English guitarist "Mahavishnu" John McLaughlin, Panamanian drummer Billy Cobham, Irish bassist Rick Laird, Czechoslovakian keyboardist Jan Hammer, and American violinist Jerry Goodman. McLaughlin had worked with Cobham and Goodman on his third solo album My Goal's Beyond (1971), and when he asked Cobham to become the drummer in the new jazz-rock fusion band he wished to form, he accepted. The violin was an instrument that had interested McLaughlin since childhood. He could not have Jean-Luc Ponty, his first choice, due to immigration problems. After listening to various albums featuring a violinist, he hired Goodman of The Flock. Although bassist Tony Levin was the first person McLaughlin wanted to join the band, Laird had known McLaughlin for several years and accepted the invitation. Hammer was found through a mutual friendship with Miroslav Vitous of Weather Report.
The group first met in July 1971 and rehearsed for one week. Their first live performance followed at the Gaslight at the Au Go Go in New York City, where they were the opening act for bluesman John Lee Hooker. McLaughlin recalled: "The first set was shaky but the second set just took off and every night it was great. They wanted to hold us over and a few days after the second week ... we went into the studio".
McLaughlin had specific ideas for the instrumentation of the group in keeping with his highly original concept of genre-blending in composition. He particularly wanted a violinist as an integral contributor to its overall sound. As the group evolved, McLaughlin adopted what became his visual trademark — a double neck guitar (six-string and twelve-string) which allowed for a great degree of diversity in musical textures — and Hammer became one of the first to play a Minimoog synthesizer in an ensemble, which enabled him to add more sounds and solo more freely alongside the guitar and the violin.
Their musical style was an original blend of genres: they combined the high-volume electrified rock sound that had been pioneered by Jimi Hendrix (with whom McLaughlin had jammed on his initial arrival in New York as part of the Tony Williams Lifetime), complex rhythms in unusual time signatures that reflected McLaughlin's interest in Indian classical music as well as funk, and harmonic influence from European classical music. The group's early music, represented on such albums as The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1973), was entirely instrumental; their later albums had songs which sometimes featured R&B or even gospel/hymn-styled vocals. In the aforementioned two albums, the group goes from an energetic fusion of upbeat genres (a representative example of which is the song "Vital Transformation") to very serene, chamber music-like tunes, such as "A Lotus On Irish Streams," a composition for acoustic guitar, piano and violin, and "Thousand Island Park," which drops the violin and incorporates double bass; or from low-key to extremely busy in a single piece, such as "Open Country Joy."
Due to the pressures of sudden fame, exhaustion and a lack of communication, the original band began to tire as 1973 continued. The stress was further exacerbated by a disastrous recording session (from a personal relationship standpoint) at London's Trident Studios that found some of the players not speaking to others. Their project was never fully completed. The last straw came as John McLaughlin read an interview in Crawdaddy magazine in which Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman expressed their frustrations with John's leadership style. An effort to fix things back in New York fell through. Later on in the 1970s, McLaughlin stated in an interview in Gig magazine that he would like the album to come out, as he thought it was good. In its place, the live album Between Nothingness & Eternity was released featuring material from the studio album. Almost 30 years later, during the beginning of a renaissance of Mahavishnu's music, the incomplete album from the failed London recording was released as The Lost Trident Sessions.
1974–1976: Second incarnation
After the original group dissolved, it reformed in 1974 with a new cast of musicians behind McLaughlin: Jean-Luc Ponty (who had performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention) on violin, Gayle Moran on keyboards, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, and Narada Michael Walden on percussion, Steven Kindler and Carol Shive on violin, Marcia Westbrook on viola, Phil Hirschi on cello, Steve Frankevich and Bob Knapp on brass. This "new" Mahavishnu Orchestra (which McLaughlin has reportedly called the "real" Mahavishnu Orchestra) changed personnel slightly between 1974's Apocalypse and Visions of the Emerald Beyond in 1975. Apocalypse was recorded in London with the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, with George Martin producing and Geoff Emerick engineering the sessions. The band was then reduced to a four-piece for 1976's Inner Worlds, with Jean-Luc Ponty leaving after a heated disagreement about writing credits on the Visions album, and Gayle Moran being replaced with Stu Goldberg. Ponty would later settle over the royalties for the tracks Pegasus and Opus 1 for an undisclosed amount of money.
1984–1987: Third incarnation
After the dissolution of this version of the Orchestra, McLaughlin formed another group called Shakti to explore his interest in Indian music; following that, he went on to form other bands including the One Truth Band and the Translators, and a guitar trio with Al Di Meola and flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía.
In 1984, McLaughlin reformed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Bill Evans on saxophones, Jonas Hellborg on bass, Mitchel Forman on keyboards, and original member Billy Cobham on drums. Cobham participated in the sessions for their self-titled 1984 album, but was replaced by Danny Gottlieb for live work, and Jim Beard replaced Mitchel Forman for the latter period of this band's life. This band's overall sound was different from the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, in particular because of McLaughlin's extensive use of the Synclavier synthesizer system.
McLaughlin then worked with a number of incarnations of the John McLaughlin Guitar Trio, all of which featured Trilok Gurtu on percussion, and, at various times, Jeff Berlin, Kai Eckhardt, and Dominique di Piazza on bass. He then formed the Free Spirits, a guitar, organ and drums trio, with Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond organ and trumpet, and Dennis Chambers on drums, as well as touring and recording again with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía.
Jan Hammer went on to collaborate with Jeff Beck (together with Narada Michael Walden) in Beck's acclaimed album Wired; and also recorded a live album with the latter. He released several solo albums and composed the theme and incidental music for the hit 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.
Jerry Goodman recorded the album Like Children with Mahavishnu keyboard alumnus Jan Hammer. Starting in 1985 he recorded three solo albums for Private Music and went on tour with his own band, as well as with Shadowfax and the Dixie Dregs.
Rick Laird played with Stan Getz and Chick Corea as well as releasing one solo LP, Soft Focus, but retired from the music business in 1982. He has worked both as a bass teacher and photographer since then.
Mahavishnu Orchestra has been cited as an influence on many bands of different genres. Greg Ginn, guitarist and main composer of hardcore punk band Black Flag, cited their early records which inspired him to record more progressive guitar work and even record instrumental albums. There has been a resurgence of interest in the Mahavishnu Orchestra in recent years, with bands like The Mars Volta, Cynic, Opeth, and the Dillinger Escape Plan, naming them as an influence. There have been no less than five major tribute recordings released. In addition, a book Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra by Walter Kolosky (AbstractLogix Books) has been published. It contains interviews with all of the band’s members and quotes obtained specifically for the book from many famous admirers such as Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, the artist Peter Max, Bill Bruford and many more. The Mahavishnu Orchestra have also been sampled in contemporary music, most notably by Massive Attack on their track "Unfinished Sympathy", which sampled "Planetary Citizen", resulting in the band's being sued by Ralphe Armstrong, who received a healthy out-of-court settlement. "You Know, You Know" was sampled on Massive Attack's "One Love" and Mos Def's "Kalifornia."
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions|
|The Inner Mounting Flame||
|Birds of Fire||15||—||29||18||20|
with London Symphony Orchestra
|Visions of the Emerald Beyond||
|Adventures in Radioland||
|The Lost Trident Sessions||
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.|
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions|
|Between Nothingness & Eternity||
|Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity||
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions|
|The Best of Mahavishnu Orchestra||
|The Complete Columbia Albums Collection||
- Kolosky, Walter (2006). Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 787. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
- "Mahavishnu Orchestra - Biography, Albums, & Streaming Radio". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- Smith, Roger L. (1972-02-11). "Rock and Schlock". The Harvard Crimson. The Harvard Crimson Inc. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
McLaughlin has chosen to work toward a musical intensity that aims inward rather than outward. There is never a wasted note, yet the improvisation by each member of the group is always present, always building and directing the music.
- Heckman, Don (1972-07-07). "Jazz: Mahavishnu - A Trip Into Rock". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
...the Mahavishnu ensemble has gradually developed a form of jazz that dips into rock, blues, Indian music, “classical music” and electronics for source material, stylistic elements and aesthetic energy.
- DeLigio, Frank; Snyder-Scumpy, Patrick (November 1973). "John McLaughlin & The Mahavishnu Orchestra: Two Sides to Every Satori". Crawdaddy. Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
- thodoris (8 October 2012). "Interview:John McLaughlin (solo, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis) – Hit Channel". Hit-channel.com. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- thodoris (21 February 2013). "Interview:Tony Levin (Stick Men, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, John Lennon) – Hit Channel". Hit-channel.com. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Exclusive: After 40 Years, The Mahavishnu Orchestra Looks Back". The Guitar Channel.
- "WBTG - Articles - JmL on Crawdaddy". Italway.it. Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- Shteamer, Hank (July 2012). "#9: GREG GINN". HeavyMetalBebop.com. Manhattan, New York City. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
- Hodgson, Peter (16 September 2011). "INTERVIEW: Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt". iheartguitarblog.com. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
Q: There’s an obvious fusion feel to a lot of the material on Heritage. Where did that come from?
Mikael Åkerfeldt: [...] the fusion aspect comes from Mahavishnu Orchestra [...]
- Tsimplakos, Jason (5 November 2013). "The Dillinger Escape Plan interview". Rocking.gr. Glasgow, Scotland (published 25 November 2013). Retrieved 14 March 2017.
- Kolosky, Walter. "Mahavishnu Orchestra - Planetary Citizen". JAZZ.COM. Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
- "John McLaughlin - Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Home - Offizielle Deutsche Charts". Officialcharts.de. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- Hung, Steffen. "norwegiancharts.com - Norwegian charts portal". Norwegiancharts.com. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Official Charts Company". Officialcharts.com. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "The Inner Mounting Flame - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Birds of Fire - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Apocalypse - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Visions of the Emerald Beyond - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Inner Worlds - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Mahavishnu - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "The Lost Trident Sessions - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- "Between Nothingness & Eternity - Mahavishnu Orchestra - Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
- Power, Passion and Beauty, The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu-Orchestra
- John McLaughlin Official Website
- Official Jan Hammer website
- Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miami Vice and More - Jan Hammer interview
- "Acceptible [sic] Fusion: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1973", by Dinky Dawson, Crawdaddy!, September 19, 2007. Archive of dead link.
- "Two Sides to Every Satori", a John McLaughlin interview, Crawdaddy!, November 1973.
- John McLaughlin video interview at allaboutjazz.com
- Jean-Luc Ponty interview at Allaboutjazz.com