The Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Inner Mounting Flame

“The Inner Mounting Flame” is the 1971 debut album by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, one of the most successful and influential of the jazz-rock fusion bands of the 70’s. The Mahavishnu Orchestra was one of the first truly cosmopolitan musical groups, both in terms of the makeup of the band and in the blending of musical styles that they performed. The band consisted of an international cast of brilliantly talented musicians led by British born guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin. Other members included Chicago born violinist Jerry Goodman (formerly of The Flock), Czech pianist Jan Hammer (who later went on to fame with Jeff Beck and composed the theme for “Miami Vice”), Irish-born (and later  New Zealand-raised) bass player Rick Laird (previously with Buddy Rich’s band) and the Panamanian born American drum powerhouse Billy Cobham, who had previously worked with John McLaughlin on several Miles Davis albums, notably Bitches Brew and Tribute To Jack Johnson. Musically, the band’s music (all composed by McLaughlin on this album) was a mixture of high volume electric rock (along the lines pioneered by Jimi Hendrix and Cream), sophisticated harmonies derived from the work of John Coltrane and modern classical music, and odd-time signature Indian ragas, as well as funk and at times gospel oriented passages.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra (L-R: Billy Cobham, John McLaughlin, Jan Hammer, Rick Laird, Jerry Goodman)

The Inner Mounting Flame featured McLaughlin’s fiery guitar work on his double-neck Gibson. Hammer and Goodman were very capable solo voices along with McLaughlin. Hammer’s work on Mini-Moog synthesizer was one of the first uses of the instrument in a band setting. Fueled by Cobham’s powerful, athletic drumming, this album was like a cannon-shot in the jazz community. Chick Corea’s Return to Forever quickly changed from a Latin-inspired jazz group to a similar guitar-oriented group with the addition of Al Di Meola, who would later record with McLaughlin. Even Weather Report’s musical direction changed after the Mahavishnu Orchestra established itself on the scene. Of particular note are the incendiary tracks “Meeting Of The Spirits,” “The Dance Of Maya” and the hypnotic You Know You Know. The wide-ranging virtuosity of the band is favorably demonstrated on the acoustic chamber music-like “A Lotus On Irish Streams”.

“Everybody had something totally unique. I think that was the unsaid secret to the success of the combination. John was obviously the primal source and the inspiration. He wrote all the original music that we started from.” –  Jan Hammer

After two years and three albums, the pressures on the group, from competing superstar egos, constant touring, and meteoric rise to fame caused the implosion of the original band. Nonetheless, its influence is still felt in bands like The Mars Volta and Dream Theater. Several tribute bands and recordings have been issued and the band’s songs have been sampled and used by numerous musicians. The Mahavishnu Orchestra and “The Inner Mounting Flame” are also cited as one of the earliest examples of the developing World Music genre. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Walter Kolosky. Power, Passion & Beauty: The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra.