Wednesday, 10 December 2008
MP3 of the Week - The Mahavishnu Orchestra: "You Know You Know"
I'm sure I'm not the only person to have discovered the Mahavishnu Orchestra via their appearance on BBC2's In Concert series in 1972. Not knowing much about music at that age, I was impressed more by the speed of their playing rather than what it was they played, and the combined musical pedigree of the various members didn't really register much with me either. Still, the performance was enough to have me seeking out their second album, Birds Of Fire, pretty much upon its release. There are a multitude of clips from the broadcast on YouTube and, while the term "ground-breaking jazz-rock-fusion" alone will be enough to send some people running, screaming, to the hills, it has to be said that, along with Tony Williams' Lifetime (of which Mahavishnu John McLaughlin was a member), they more or less wrote the book. They ended up becoming victims of their own somewhat unprecedented success, though, and the original line-up dissolved in 1973, due to internal strife which bassist Rick Laird later described as "too many chiefs and not enough Indians".
What I like about their stuff now, which I didn't get at all at the time, is its intensity and euphoria. Sure, it's incredibly complex on a technical level, and a lot more structured and disciplined than it might sometimes appear but, at its best, you do get the sense of a group of musicians genuinely aiming for something transcendent. Their instinctive jazzer's tendency towards improvisation could easily have led them into a world of jam-band tedium, something that disciples of theirs such as the Mars Volta occasionally fall foul of. Even now it can sound a little too full-on sometimes, but quite a lot of their stuff has held up well, as the good stuff generally does.
This tune from their debut album "The Inner Mounting Flame" is amongst the easiest to digest for non-believers - a simple circular melody over a spare, funky groove, which steadily builds in intensity without over-complicating itself, and is a great example of how effective they could be when they took their foot off the gas for five minutes. Fans of Massive Attack may like to pay particular attention at the 1'54" mark...
The Mahavishnu Orchestra: You Know You Know (The Inner Mounting Flame, 1971)