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4.6 out of 5 stars33
4.6 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 15 May 2004
John McLaughlin's five-piece Mahavishnu were really flying when they made 'Birds of Fire', a record that brings together the power of rock with the swing of jazz (Rick Laird had a pure jazz pedigree) and a lightness of lyrical touch that was almost Celtic.
There was a spontaneity and an experimentation about this music that carried on the spirit of Miles' 'Bitches Brew', a record on which McLaughlin made a distinctive contribution and which hinted at so much that was to come.
But 'Birds of Fire' has a coherence to it, as well, that a lot of electric jazz from that time lacked. There was always a huge integrity and effort in what McLaughlin did, even when playing at 120 miles an hour with drummer Billy Cobham powering through and Jan Hamer's electric keyboards slicing through the octaves and the ozone.
Loud, energetic but somehow spiritual music. Blew me away when I heard it in the early 1970s and still gives me the shivers.
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When it came out in 1973 this was one of those 'never heard anything like it before moments'. I was aware of the previous The Inner Mounting Flame which had felt somewhat bitty and disconected to me (but maybe it's time I gave that another try too), but nothing prepared me for the sheer venomousness of this album. I've ummed and ahhd about reacquiring it for a while, but it arrived yesterday, and as it hit my deck it immediately plastered me to to the opposite wall.

At the time McLaughlin was an anomoly. While everyone else wore jeans and raggy tea-shirts and had hair down on their shoulders, this guy dressed in white and had a crew cut that made him look like a suspiciously friendly marine. In an age where anyone with a brain was 'looking for something' John was considered the archetypal 'spiritual' musician. One of those who'd seemed to have found what the rest of us were 'looking for'. Even then though, there was such a clear contradiction - how does such a spiritual man compose and play such utterly demonic music? It certainly caused me to rethink what the term 'spiritual' might actually mean.
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on 16 February 2005
This is, in two words, virtuoso musicianship. The ability to just pick a time signature out at random and play it is something only the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report can do well.
Mc Laughlin's woozy guitar and Cobham's lightning speed drumming are the force behind Birds Of Fire, Mahavishnu's best album. It knocks The Inner Mounting Flame and Inner Worlds for six. As I am only 14, I wasn't around when Mahavishnu were in full flight, but I can imagine the impression this record made.
If you want to try something modern in a similar vein, try "Deloused In The Comatorium" by The Mars Volta. This is an awesome record and they follow a lot of Mahavishnu's playing styles.
So, Birds Of Fire, awesome, five stars.
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on 24 September 2006
I came to Birds Of Fire after discovering John McLaughlin on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew - the best record of all time i.m.o.. Initially I thought the music sounded a little dated, but I was soon entranced by the strange rhythms, beautiful melodies and (almost) ludicrous virtuosity of the musicians. After listening to it a couple of times I am hooked - it is a truly breathtaking ride that skips, without a hint of contrivance, between different musical styles (mainly rock and folk) and back again in the blink of an eye. One shouldn't really single out individual musicians in such a brilliant ensemble but McLaughlin has got to be a candidate for the most complete guitarist of all time and Cobham's drumming is so fast, light and inventive as to defy belief.

Buy this record, put any prog rock prejudices you might have on one side, and be astonished by the music.
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on 10 September 2000
'Birds of Fire' was the Mahavishnu Orchestra at its peak. It's more polished than its predecessor, 'The Inner Mounting Flame', while lacking none of that raw, visceral energy. To some ears it will still sound a little rough compared to what has happened since in the fusion area, but there is more than enough heart in it to compensate. It makes so much other fusion music seem, while technically adept, calculated and clinical by comparison. The rapport between the five players is truly remarkable, especially when McLaughlin, Hammer and Goodman trade ever shorter bursts of improvisation, in the manner (though not the style!) of Indian musicians (eg, 'The Word'). If you enjoy instrumental improvisation at the highest level within the big rock sound world, this album is a must-have. It's been remastered very nicely too, so everything is as clear as a bell - or as clear as it can be among all that heavy distortion!
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on 10 December 2012
The second album from this excellent band. And a very intense album it is too. Taking the best from harder edge rock and jazz, this album hits the listener between the eyes. But this album also has it's more lyrical, reflective sides.

John McLaughlin leads the assault of the senses, but the rest of the band is also brilliant. Mahavishnu Orchestra and most of what John McLaughlin has done has a lot of Indian culture and music fused into the backbone of the music and not as some feathers borrowed from India as The Beatles and others did. On Birds Of Fire, the Indian connection shines through all the time. In particular in Jerry Goodmann's violin.

The material is high quality throughout and this makes this album one of the better fusion albums out there. And that is my 100 words worth of opinions on an album I really love. The lack of a killer track or two is my only gripe with this album. Besides of that, this is a great album.
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This second album from The Mahavishnu Orchestra was released in 1973. It showcases John McLaughlin's astounding fusion quintet at the height of their creativity and shines with inspiration, energy and power.

BoF is similar to the band's 1971 debut album `The Inner Mounting Flame' but perhaps slightly more polished; more accessible on first listening. You might describe BoF as more of a rock album and TIMF as more rooted in jazz-rock fusion.

Like all the MO's material, the album is 100% instrumental. Again these five virtuoso musicians astound with their mastery of unorthodox time-signatures and play with a synergy and energy probably never equalled in the annals of jazz/rock. This will not be everybody's cup of tea, for sure; it's quintessentially a musicians' album: adventurous, demanding, original, intense, with a unique sound. The pieces on BoF are on the whole shorter and punchier than those found on the MO's other work, excepting the 9.55 extended `One Word' with its 13/8-time rhythm driven by Laird out-front over which Goodman, Hammer and McLaughlin deliver complex interwoven solos and an explosive drum solo from Cobham thrown in to spice the mix.

It's difficult to describe how ground-breaking was the music made by this band. People who didn't think they liked `jazz' and had never bought an instrumental album became appreciative fans, in droves. If you're new to The Mahavishnu Orchestra, `Birds of Fire' might be the most accessible gateway to their small but magnificent back catalogue and a good place to start; then try `The Inner Mounting Flame' and `The Lost Trident Sessions'.
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on 21 January 2012
This came out when our sixth form common room was filled with the sound of Yes, Strawbs, King Crimson, Uriah Heep, ELO in their experimental days etc etc. Their previous album, Inner Mounting Flame, I didn't get into, nor the later ones - I like to know that the music has some structure or it becomes art for arts sake rather than for the listener. However on this album the guys hit the spot in virtuosity, musicality and improvisation - definitely the best of their work in my opinion as its success seemed to go to their heads later. But for this album - a classic and highly recommended for jazz or rock buffs out there
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on 14 August 2014
As a drummer this album was a must. This was one of the first times Billy Cobham had played with a band on a whole album and with a guitarist, a pianist, bassist and violinist the Mahavishnu Orchestra make a beautiful instrumental album of mad jazz fusion with elements of prog and rock. What really makes this album a defining achievement of jazz fusion in the 70's is its rich sound-scape, that builds and calms with such ease just like the sea, with heavy opener 'Birds Of Fire' set ups a beautiful violin sequence with edgy piano and heavy guitar all powered by Cobham's monster drumming. The album moves in and out of the fusion genre setting up short burst songs like 'Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love' clocking in at only 21 seconds and then with the lengthy prog-like 'One World', this album is a builder but after the slow ascent you appreciate every second of it's 40 minute beauty. Do not move on without this album, it is an essential for every person who loves music.

Essential Tracks:
Birds Of Fire
Thousand Island Park
One World
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on 24 September 2007
Probably because I'm listening on a much better sound system. The coolest album I have ever heard.
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