Review Summary: It's not Prime Time, but it'll do.
The problem with some fusion is that nothing ever really fuses
. A few surface aspects of jazz and rock all mixed and added together; in a manner that only confirms the suspicion that jazz-rock is more often than not an oxymoron. And it's not a particularly big favorite to musicians, either. Bassist Randy Jackson said that jazz fusion was easily the hardest genre to pull off correctly; and who can blame him? It's full of guitars flavored with reverb, odd bass soloing, enough time signatures to confuse Oceansize
, and a lot of complex rhythms and tempos. Artists such as Miles Davis
and Return to Forever
have done it, yes; but it takes a lot of talent to do it right. Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin's 1970 love child, does this difficult tactic correctly.
Birds of Fire
, the second release by this large band, shows the band sharpening their songwriting and composition a good deal better than they had done before. While the sound is definitely in their key style, there are qualities missing from their previous release The Inner Mounting Flame
. (Columbia, 1971) However, the changes here are for the better; Birds of Fire is insane
. It is so righteously furious and executed with a deadly zeal that you'll be amazed from the whirlwind of upbeat overtones, the building sound, and the groovy signatures: a storm. If there was a word to summarize Birds of Fire, it would be a storm. A great storm of music, sweeping down in a hail of powerful music.
There's not truly a bad one on the album - almost everything seems to work here. The opening track, "Birds of Fire
" steals the show - and it's just the opening track - in its 6 minute entirety. Opening with a light guitar riff, it starts to build as those notes die away into a thumping bass riff amongst a throbbing saxophone: after only a minute, everything starts to unfold and erupts. McLaughlin's guitar soloing throughout the song is excellent, right up there with Henry McCullough accuracy. The whole track will jostle you in its own pure voltage. Seems to have the 'outest' changes ever as well: notes implied Ab7+9b13
to Bb7b9 +11
, which means potentially A melodic minor to B octatonic symmetric dimished (whole-half) could, in theory, be used since both scales contain the notes in these chords. In other words, this album will rock you like riding the edge of a lightning storm.
There aren't very many issues on this album, give or take a few ones that can be ignored. Hope
are two shorter track that, with their expansive sound, could be made longer but are sadly only two minutes. The intro of Open Country Joy
is the most jazz-credible on the album but goes on for a minute too long, and while the epic One Word
(ten minutes in length) is easily the second best track on the whole album, the opening in itself sound very epic at first, but when it starts to go on for three minutes, it would of lasted better two minutes. So the main problem on Birds on Fire is, longevity and length. Also, there could be vocals.
But, if they were aiming for higher ambitions and brighter dreams, they hit them with deadly accuracy. It's a fantastic record, one that you can't and shouldn't find yourself without. They climbed the mountain of this genre; they reached the summit of it. Despite a few little flaws that you can crush under your thumb, Birds of Fire is the band's best release to date, hurtling along with nothing but forty minutes on the album. Just listen to this album, you'd feel like yourself again.
Released in 1973 under C.B.S.