The Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Inner Mounting Flame

  • With a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side one and a side two that’s close to it, this copy has much to recommend it
  • The band’s debut here is a true Jazz/Rock Fusion Demo Disc with the Big Sound we love here at Better Records 
  • This album was recorded in 1973, only a year after Bitches Brew single-handedly created the genre of Jazz Fusion itself
  • 5 Stars “…a furious, high-energy, yet rigorously conceived meeting of virtuosos that, for all intents and purposes, defined the fusion of jazz and rock…”

This is the first album by the band, recorded only a year after Bitches Brew single-handedly created the genre of Jazz Fusion itself. Or is it better described as an album of Prog Rock without the vocals? Remember, King Crimson had a violinist and not a whole lot of singing too.

Whatever it is, mostly what this music wants to do is rock. And on this copy it rocks like you will not believe. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

The best copies had huge amounts of bottom end weight as well as rich, Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone. Once you’ve heard it sound that way, on the copies without both you’ll notice that the sound falls flat pretty quickly.

It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record! We find ourselves playing albums like Zep II and Back in Black for hour after hour, with dozens of copies to get through, and we do it on a regular basis. If anybody knows Big Rock Sound, it’s us. But can we really say that those albums rock any harder than this one?

What to Listen For

The main problem we heard again and again on the copies we were auditioning was an obvious lack of top end extension and clarity. Without all the top there is not enough space for all the instruments to occupy. It then becomes easy for the sound to get congested and the musical lines to become jumbled, with the most subtle elements getting progressively more and more lost in the dense mixes the band is known for.

With everyone blasting away at the same time the mixes on the album get very dense indeed. Big speakers in a carefully treated room are a must if you want to play The Inner Mounting Flame at the loud levels we prefer.

The sides that had the most space and the biggest, tightest low ends tended to do everything else right as well. The energy was rarely less than phenomenal, but that energy only works to increase the listener’s involvement when there is enough space and enough weight to keep the sound opened up above and anchored down below.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition the sound can often be recessed, lacking presence and immediacy in the center of the soundfield.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundscape, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded as open and clear as that eighth or ninth one. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one of two clean original (or otherwise) copies with which to do a shootout?

One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

5 Stars All Over the Place

Based on the reviews one would have to rank this album as one of the top Jazz/Rock Fusion Albums of All Time. Rolling Stone gives it Five Stars, Allmusic gives it Five Stars, and even Robert Christgau, the toughest grader of them all, gives the album an “A.”

In our experience, few recordings within this genre can begin to compete with the Dynamics and Energy of the best pressings of the album — if you have the system designed to play it. (Even if you don’t the album will still rock like crazy.)


Side One

All songs are by John McLaughlin on both sides

Meeting of the Spirits
The Noonward Race
A Lotus on Irish Streams

Side Two

Vital Transformation
The Dance of Maya
You Know You Know

AMG 5 Star Review

This is the album that made John McLaughlin a semi-household name, a furious, high-energy, yet rigorously conceived meeting of virtuosos that, for all intents and purposes, defined the fusion of jazz and rock a year after Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew breakthrough. It also inadvertently led to the derogatory connotation of the word fusion, for it paved the way for an army of imitators, many of whose excesses and commercial panderings devalued the entire movement. Though much was made of the influence of jazz-influenced improvisation in the Mahavishnu band, it is the rock element that predominates, stemming directly from the electronic innovations of Jimi Hendrix.

The improvisations, particularly McLaughlin’s post-Hendrix machine-gun assaults on double-necked electric guitar and Jerry Goodman’s flights on electric violin, owe more to the freakouts that had been circulating in progressive rock circles than to jazz, based as they often are on ostinatos on one chord. These still sound genuinely thrilling today on CD, as McLaughlin and Goodman battle Jan Hammer’s keyboards, Rick Laird’s bass, and especially Billy Cobham’s hard-charging drums, whose jazz-trained technique pushed the envelope for all rock drummers.