Mahavishnu Orchestra: Birds of Fire

Guitarist John McLaughlin’s career has taken him to pretty much every area of the interpretive universe, from Lifetime with Tony Williams to Miles to the Far East and post-hard bop. Still, to some, none of his directions have the impact of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. Birds of Fire (Columbia Legacy CK 66081; 40:31), the group’s sophomore 1972 release, was a snapshot of the band at its interactive best, the fearsome individual parts (McLaughlin, violinist Jerry Goodman, keyboardist Jan Hammer, drummer Billy Cobham, bassist Rick Laird) moving as a unit. From the telepathic solo trading of “Celestial Terrestrial Commuters,” to the sly, Rhodes-fueled groove of “Miles Beyond” to the acoustic delicacy of “Thousand Island Park,” the band established standards for rock-fusion performance, standards that not only included technical excellence, but knowing conceptual and compositional elan.