- An outstanding original CBS Orange Label British pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
- If you were to own only one Fusion record, you could hardly do better than Birds of Fire
- It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record!
- Clearly one of the All Time Greats in the world of Jazz/Rock, as well as the band’s Masterpiece – 5 stars
This is the band at the peak of their powers and, no pun intended, ON FIRE. This may be jazz, but it’s jazz that wants to rock. And on this copy, it rocks like you will not believe. The louder you play it the better it sounds.
Birds of Fire is one of the top two or three Jazz/Rock Fusion Albums of All Time. In my 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 Big Dynamic system for it.
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 Houses of the Holy and Zep II and Dark Side of the Moon for hour upon 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? Birds of Fire is to Jazz what Zep II is to Rock — the ultimate statement by a band at the absolute top of their game.
We tried doing a shootout for this album in 2008 and failed miserably. At that time, not that long ago when you think about it, there was no way we could get this music to play so loud, so cleanly, and with such correct tonality, from the deepest bass to the highest highs, complete with the wild swings in dynamics that the recording captures so well.
The Audio Revolution Is Alive and Well and making progress all the time.
What the best sides of Birds of Fire have to offer is not hard to hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1973
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Ken Scott, Recording Genius
The amazing engineer Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau) is the man responsible for the sound here, but the explosive dynamics are not just for show. They’re here for a reason. This music requires that level of sonic realism; better yet, demands it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively enhances it.
Those monster Billy Cobham drum rolls that run across the soundstage from wall to wall may be a recording studio trick, but they’re there to draw your attention to his amazing powers, and it works! The drums are everywhere on this album, constantly jumping out of the soundfield and taking the energy of the music into the stratosphere where it belongs.
We know of few recordings where the drums are placed so prominently in the mix, almost as if the rest of the band is there to support the drummer. (On Cobham’s solo albums that is indeed the case.)
But that’s precisely what makes this record such a joy to listen to. The drummer is virtually out of his mind on most of these songs, and the rest of the band have to step up their game just to keep up with the guy.
What We’re Listening For on Birds of Fire
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
The Best Copies
The main problem with this record is a lack of midrange presence. If the keyboards, drums, and guitars are not right in front of you,, your copy does not have all the presence it should. On the best copies, the musicians are in the room with you. We know this for a fact because we heard the copies that could present them that way, and we heard it more than once.
Which of course gets to the reason shootouts are the only real way to learn about records. The best copies will show you qualities in the sound you had no way of knowing were possible. Without the freakishly good pressings, you run into by chance in a shootout you have no way to know how high is up. On this record up is very high indeed.
Birds of Fire as a recording is not about depth or soundstage or ambience. It’s about immediacy, plain and simple. All the lead instruments positively jump out of the speakers — if you are lucky enough to be playing the right pressing. This is precisely what we want our best Hot Stampers to do. The better they do it, the higher their grade.
British or Domestic?
Both can be good in our experience. For a while we were convinced that the British originals were the way to go, but since then we’ve found domestic pressings that were their equal. We do the same shootouts over and over, and it’s not unusual for the rules to get broken. The records tell us their stories. Our job is to keep our minds and our ears open enough to hear what they are trying to say.
A Must Own Jazz Record
This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Audiophile Jazz Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
Birds of Fire
Listen for the powerful kick drum underneath the music. On the better copies it will kick like a mule.
The snare should sound very clear and very real on this track. If your system is slow, veiled or thick, or you have a mediocre copy, that snare sound will not impress you much. Get a Hot Stamper and work on your system until it sounds impressive, it will be worth it.
Celestial Terrestrial Commuters
Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love
Thousand Island Park
Another track with a brilliantly recorded snare. Ken Scott recorded the super fat drums on Ziggy Stardust, but he knows how to record a snare to sound exactly like the real thing when the music calls for it. This is Fusion, not Glam, and the snare sound on the best copies is about as good as it gets on vinyl.
Open Country Joy
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
Emboldened by the popularity of Inner Mounting Flame among rock audiences, the first Mahavishnu Orchestra set out to further define and refine its blistering jazz-rock direction in its second — and, no thanks to internal feuding, last — studio album. Although it has much of the screaming rock energy and sometimes exaggerated competitive frenzy of its predecessor, Birds of Fire is audibly more varied in texture, even more tightly organized, and thankfully more musical in content.
A remarkable example of precisely choreographed, high-speed solo trading — with John McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman, and Jan Hammer all of one mind, supported by Billy Cobham’s machine-gun drumming and Rick Laird’s dancing bass — can be heard on the aptly named “One Word,” and the title track is a defining moment of the group’s nearly atonal fury…
This album actually became a major crossover hit, rising to number 15 on the pop album charts, and it remains the key item in the first Mahavishnu Orchestra’s slim discography.