Mahavishnu Orchestra

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Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu orchestra1973.jpg
The original line-up on stage in 1973.
Left to right: Jerry Goodman, Jan Hammer, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Rick Laird
Background information
Origin New York City, US
Years active
  • 1971–1976
  • 1984–1987
Labels Columbia
Associated acts
Past members John McLaughlin
Billy Cobham
Jan Hammer
Jerry Goodman
Rick Laird
Ralphe Armstrong
Narada Michael Walden
Gayle Moran
Jean-Luc Ponty
Stu Goldberg
Bill Evans
Jonas Hellborg
Mitchel Forman
Danny Gottlieb
Jim Beard

The Mahavishnu Orchestra were a jazz fusion band formed in New York City in 1971, led by English guitarist John McLaughlin. [1] The group underwent several line-up changes throughout its history across two stints from 1971 to 1976 and 1984 to 1987. [2] With its first line-up consisting of musicians Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird, the band received its initial acclaim for its complex, intense music consisting of a blend of Indian classical music, jazz and psychedelic rock, and its dynamic live performances between 1971 and 1973. [3] [4] Many members of the band have gone on to acclaimed careers of their own in the jazz and jazz fusion genres.



1971–1974: First incarnation

By mid-1971, McLaughlin had been a member of Miles Davis' band and Tony Williams' Lifetime, and released three solo albums. He then set about forming his own jazz fusion group, the first line-up of which featured Panamanian drummer Billy Cobham, Irish bassist Rick Laird, Czechoslovakian keyboardist Jan Hammer, and American violinist Jerry Goodman. [5] Cobham and Goodman had played on McLaughlin's third solo album My Goal's Beyond (1971). McLaughlin's first choice for violinist was Frenchman Jean-Luc Ponty, but he was unable to join due to immigration problems. After listening to various albums he hired Goodman, formerly of The Flock. Though American bassist Tony Levin was the first person McLaughlin wanted, [6] [7] Laird had known McLaughlin for several years and accepted the invitation. Hammer was found through a mutual friendship with Miroslav Vitous of the jazz fusion group Weather Report. [5] The group's name originates from Indian spiritual leader and guru Sri Chinmoy, of whom McLaughlin had become a follower, who gave him the name Mahavishnu, "Maha" meaning "great" in Sanskrit and "vishnu" after the Hindu deity Vishnu. [8]

With the line-up secured, the five met in New York City in July 1971 and rehearsed for one week. They adopted an instrumental fusion sound characterised by electric rock, funk, complex time signatures, and arrangements influenced by McLaughlin's interest in Indian classical music. Their debut gigs followed at the Gaslight at the Au Go Go as the opening act for bluesman John Lee Hooker. [9] McLaughlin recalled: "The first set was shaky but the second set just took off and every night it was great. They wanted to hold us over and a few days after the second week ... we went into the studio". [10] McLaughlin secured a record deal with Columbia Records, giving the green light to record an album.

McLaughlin in 1973 performing with the band JohnMcLaughlin.jpg
McLaughlin in 1973 performing with the band

The Inner Mounting Flame was released in November 1971, peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard Jazz Albums and No. 89 on the Billboard 200. This was followed by Birds of Fire (1973). Due to the pressures of sudden fame, exhaustion and a lack of communication, the original band began to tire. The stress was further exacerbated by problematic recording sessions in June 1973 at London's Trident Studios that found some of the players not speaking to others. Their project was never fully completed. Cobham was disappointed and felt that the group "were knocking on the door of something really new. Something unique, something that had never been done before in rock and roll." [11] This was followed by the release of their first live album Between Nothingness & Eternity , which featured material from the Trident sessions. [1]

Later in 1973, Hammer and Goodman expressed their frustrations about McLaughlin's leadership in an interview for Crawdaddy magazine. An attempt was made to improve group relations by having each member introduced as they walked on stage, and tunes by Hammer, Laird, and Goodman mixed into the live set. [5] It was not enough, however, and the five played their final gig on December 30. [12] According to Laird, the band did not say goodbye to each other afterward. [13] In January 1974, McLaughlin split the group. [12] Laird spoke about the group weeks later, claiming that despite McLaughlin's having composed most of the group's tunes, the rest of the band contributed "a great deal" and did not receive credit. He was also critical of Cobham's claim that the group had rejected his musical ideas, and that Hammer, Goodman, and Laird pushed to have their songs performed because of "an ego trip". [13]

1974–1976: Second incarnation

After the original group dissolved, it reformed in 1974 with a new cast of musicians behind McLaughlin: Jean-Luc Ponty (who had performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention) on violin, Gayle Moran on keyboards, Ralphe Armstrong on bass, and Narada Michael Walden on percussion, Steven Kindler and Carol Shive on violin, Marcia Westbrook on viola, Phil Hirschi on cello, Steve Frankevich and Bob Knapp on brass. [1] This "new" Mahavishnu Orchestra (which McLaughlin has reportedly called the "real" Mahavishnu Orchestra) changed personnel slightly between 1974's Apocalypse and Visions of the Emerald Beyond in 1975. Apocalypse was recorded in London with the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, with George Martin producing and Geoff Emerick engineering the sessions. [1] The band was then reduced to a four-piece for 1976's Inner Worlds , with Jean-Luc Ponty leaving after a heated disagreement about writing credits on the Visions album, and Gayle Moran being replaced with Stu Goldberg. Ponty would later settle over the royalties for the tracks Pegasus and Opus 1 for an undisclosed amount of money.

1984–1987: Third incarnation

After the dissolution of this version of the Orchestra, McLaughlin formed another group called Shakti to explore his interest in Indian music; [1] following that, he went on to form other bands including the One Truth Band and the Translators, and a guitar trio with Al Di Meola and flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía.

In 1984, McLaughlin reformed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Bill Evans on saxophones, Jonas Hellborg on bass, Mitchel Forman on keyboards, and original member Billy Cobham on drums. Cobham participated in the sessions for their self-titled 1984 album, but was replaced by Danny Gottlieb for live work, and Jim Beard replaced Mitchel Forman for the latter period of this band's life. This band's overall sound was different from the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, in particular because of McLaughlin's extensive use of the Synclavier synthesizer system.

Post-Mahavishnu Orchestra

McLaughlin then worked with a number of incarnations of the John McLaughlin Guitar Trio, all of which featured Trilok Gurtu on percussion, and, at various times, Jeff Berlin, Kai Eckhardt, and Dominique di Piazza on bass. He then formed the Free Spirits, a guitar, organ and drums trio, with Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond organ and trumpet, and Dennis Chambers on drums, as well as touring and recording again with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía.

Billy Cobham went on to perform as a solo artist, recording many albums including Total Eclipse , Crosswinds and Spectrum , and toured with the "Billy Cobham & George Duke Band" for many years. Jan Hammer went on to collaborate with Jeff Beck (together with Narada Michael Walden) in Beck's acclaimed album Wired and also recorded a live album with Beck. He released several solo albums and composed the theme and incidental music for the hit 1980s TV show, Miami Vice . Jerry Goodman recorded the album Like Children with Mahavishnu keyboard alumnus Jan Hammer. Starting in 1985 he recorded three solo albums for Private Music and went on tour with his own band, as well as with Shadowfax and the Dixie Dregs. Rick Laird played with Stan Getz and Chick Corea as well as releasing one solo LP, Soft Focus, but retired from the music business in 1982. He has worked both as a bass teacher and photographer since then.


Mahavishnu Orchestra has been cited as an influence on many bands of different genres. Greg Ginn, guitarist and main composer of hardcore punk band Black Flag, cited their early records which inspired him to record more progressive guitar work and even record instrumental albums. [14] There has been a resurgence of interest in the Mahavishnu Orchestra in recent years, with bands like The Mars Volta, [15] Opeth, [16] and the Dillinger Escape Plan, [17] naming them as an influence. Jon Fishman, the drummer for Phish has also cited them as an influence. [18] There have been no less than five major tribute recordings released. In addition, a book Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra by Walter Kolosky (AbstractLogix Books) has been published. It contains interviews with all of the band’s members and quotes obtained specifically for the book from many famous admirers such as Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, the artist Peter Max, Bill Bruford and many more. The Mahavishnu Orchestra have also been sampled in contemporary music, most notably by Massive Attack on their track "Unfinished Sympathy", which sampled "Planetary Citizen", resulting in the band's being sued by Ralphe Armstrong, who received a healthy out-of-court settlement. [19] "You Know, You Know" was sampled on Massive Attack's "One Love" and Mos Def's "Kalifornia."

Band members

  • John McLaughlin - guitar
  • Jan Hammer - keyboards
  • Jerry Goodman - violin
  • Rick Laird - bass guitar
  • Billy Cobham - drums
  • John McLaughlin - guitar
  • Gayle Moran - keyboards, vocals
  • Jean-Luc Ponty - violin
  • Ralphe Armstrong - bass guitar
  • Narada Michael Walden - drums
  • John McLaughlin - guitar
  • Stu Goldberg - keyboards
  • Ralphe Armstrong - bass guitar
  • Narada Michael Walden - drums
  • John McLaughlin - guitar
  • Mitchel Forman - keyboards
  • Bill Evans - saxophone
  • Jonas Hellborg - bass guitar
  • Billy Cobham - drums
  • John McLaughlin - guitar
  • Mitchel Forman - keyboards
  • Bill Evans - saxophone
  • Jonas Hellborg - bass guitar
  • Danny Gottlieb - drums
  • John McLaughlin - guitar
  • Jim Beard - keyboards
  • Bill Evans - saxophone
  • Jonas Hellborg - bass guitar
  • Danny Gottlieb - drums


Mahavishnu Orchestra


Studio albums

TitleAlbum detailsPeak chart positionsCertifications
US Jazz
AUS [21] GER
The Inner Mounting Flame
  • Released: August 14, 1971 [25]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, LP, digital download
Birds of Fire
  • Released: March 29, 1973 [26]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, Q8, digital download
with London Symphony Orchestra
  • Released: March, 1974 [28]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, LP, Q8, digital download
Visions of the Emerald Beyond
  • Released: February, 1975 [29]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, Q8, digital download
Inner Worlds
  • Released: January, 1976 [30]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, Q8, digital download
  • Released: 1984 [31]
  • Label: WEA Musik, Warner Bros.
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP
Adventures in Radioland
  • Released: 1987
  • Label: Relativity, PolyGram
  • Formats: CD, LP, digital download
The Lost Trident Sessions
  • Released: September 21, 1999 [32]
  • Label: Sony
  • Formats: CD, HDCD, digital download
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Live albums

TitleAlbum detailsPeak chart positions
AUS [21]
Between Nothingness & Eternity
  • Released: November, 1973 [33]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, LP, Q8, digital download
Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: digital download


TitleAlbum detailsPeak chart positions
The Best of Mahavishnu Orchestra
  • Released: 1980
  • Label: Columbia, CBS
  • Formats: LP, CS, CD
The Complete Columbia Albums Collection
  • Released: 2011
  • Label: Columbia, Sony
  • Formats: CD


Related Research Articles

Richard Quentin Laird was an Irish musician, photographer, teacher, and author best known as the bassist and founding member of the jazz fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra, with which he performed from 1971 to 1973.

Jazz fusion is a music genre that developed in the late 1960s when musicians combined jazz harmony and improvisation with rock music, funk, and rhythm and blues. Electric guitars, amplifiers, and keyboards that were popular in rock and roll started to be used by jazz musicians, particularly those who had grown up listening to rock and roll.

John McLaughlin (musician) Guitarist, founder of the Mahavishnu Orchestra

John McLaughlin is an English guitarist, bandleader, and composer. A pioneer of jazz fusion, his music combines elements of jazz with rock, world music, Indian classical music, Western classical music, flamenco, and blues. After contributing to several key British groups of the early 1960s, McLaughlin made Extrapolation, his first album as a bandleader, in 1969. He then moved to the U.S., where he played with Tony Williams's group Lifetime and then with Miles Davis on his electric jazz-fusion albums In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, and On the Corner. His 1970s electric band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, performed a technically virtuosic and complex style of music that fused electric jazz and rock with Indian influences.

Jan Hammer Musical artist

Jan Hammer is a Czech-American musician, composer and record producer. He first gained his most visible audience while playing keyboards with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970s, as well as his film scores for television and film including "Miami Vice Theme" and "Crockett's Theme", from the 1980s television program, Miami Vice. He has continued to work as both a musical performer and producer.

Return to Forever

Return to Forever was an American jazz fusion band that was founded by pianist Chick Corea in 1972. The band has had many members, with the only consistent bandmate of Corea's being bassist Stanley Clarke. Along with Weather Report, The Headhunters, and Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever is often cited as one of the core groups of the jazz-fusion movement of the 1970s. Several musicians, including Clarke, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Al Di Meola, came to prominence through their performances on Return to Forever albums.

Jean-Luc Ponty French musician

Jean-Luc Ponty is a French jazz violinist and composer.

<i>Birds of Fire</i> 1973 studio album by Mahavishnu Orchestra

Birds of Fire is the second studio album by jazz fusion band the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was released on January 3, 1973, by Columbia Records and is the last studio album released by the original band line-up before it dissolved.

<i>The Inner Mounting Flame</i> 1971 studio album by Mahavishnu Orchestra

The Inner Mounting Flame is the debut studio album by American jazz-rock fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra, recorded in August 1971 and released in November of the same year by Columbia Records. After their formation, the group performed several debut gigs before they entered the studio to record their first album featuring all original material written by guitarist John McLaughlin.

Billy Cobham American jazz drummer

William Emanuel Cobham Jr. is a Panamanian-American jazz drummer who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s with trumpeter Miles Davis and then with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. According to AllMusic, Cobham is generally acclaimed as fusion's greatest drummer.

Jerry Goodman American violinist (born 1949)

Jerry Goodman is an American violinist who played electric violin with The Flock and the jazz fusion ensemble Mahavishnu Orchestra.

<i>Love Devotion Surrender</i> 1973 studio album by Santana & McLaughlin

Love Devotion Surrender is an album released in 1973 by guitarists Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin, with the backing of their respective bands, Santana and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The album was inspired by the teachings of Sri Chinmoy and intended as a tribute to John Coltrane. It contains two Coltrane compositions, two McLaughlin songs, and a traditional gospel song arranged by Santana and McLaughlin. It was certified Gold in 1973.

<i>Spectrum</i> (Billy Cobham album) 1973 studio album by Billy Cobham

Spectrum is the debut solo album by jazz fusion drummer Billy Cobham. The album was influenced by the earlier jazz fusion of Miles Davis, with whom Cobham had previously collaborated extensively, and Cobham's previous band Mahavishnu Orchestra.

<i>The Lost Trident Sessions</i> 1999 studio album by Mahavishnu Orchestra

The Lost Trident Sessions is a studio album by jazz fusion group the Mahavishnu Orchestra, released on 21 September 1999 through Sony Music Entertainment. It was originally recorded in June 1973 at Trident Studios but was not released until 26 years later. According to the album's detailed liner notes, in November 1998 Columbia Records producer Bob Belden stumbled upon two quarter-inch tapes in Columbia's Los Angeles vault whilst gathering material for a remastered reissue of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's 1973 album Birds of Fire. The tapes were otherwise unlabelled besides the recording location, but upon further inspection, they were revealed to be the two-track mixes for what would have been the Mahavishnu Orchestra's third studio album at the time.

<i>Between Nothingness & Eternity</i> 1973 live album by The Mahavishnu Orchestra

Between Nothingness & Eternity is the first live album by jazz fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra, released on November 1973 by Columbia Records. According to the Mahavishnu Orchestra Gigs listing by Walter Kolosky, it was recorded live at the Schaefer Music Festival, held in Central Park, New York on August 17 and 18, 1973, even though available recordings seem to prove that all of the material from the album was actually taken from the second night only. Originally, Mahavishnu Orchestra's third album was to be a studio effort, recorded in June 1973 at Trident in London, but was scrapped during the final days of the project; the live album, containing versions of three out of the original six tracks, was released instead as the last album during the period of the original line-up of the band. The original studio album was later released in 1999 as The Lost Trident Sessions.

<i>Inner Worlds</i> 1976 studio album by Mahavishnu Orchestra

Inner Worlds is an album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was the group's sixth album release.

<i>Electric Dreams</i> (John McLaughlin album) 1979 studio album by John McLaughlin

Electric Dreams is the sixth solo album by English jazz guitarist John McLaughlin and his "One Truth Band", released in 1979. Between his fourth and fifth solo albums he spent several years active with the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Rock violin

Rock violin is rock music that includes violin in its instrumental lineup. This includes rock music only and does not include classical style music using melodic motifs from rock.

<i>Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity</i> 2011 live album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra

Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity is a live album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, first released in 2011 as part of The Complete Columbia Albums Collection boxset, along with the other albums by the first line-up of the band, including The Lost Trident Sessions. As the title explains, the album contains other selections from the two Central Park shows from August 1973 from which the live album Between Nothingness and Eternity was culled.

<i>Mahavishnu Orchestra: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection</i> 2011 box set by Mahavishnu Orchestra

The Complete Columbia Albums Collection is a box set by Mahavishnu Orchestra. It came out in 2011 and it contains remastered versions of all the albums by the first incarnation of the band, including The Lost Trident Sessions which was to be the band's third studio album, recorded in 1973 but only released in 1999. Additionally, the first album The Inner Mounting Flame contains a bonus track, the live album Between Nothingness & Eternity was remixed and expanded, and the box includes a previously unreleased live CD called Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity. The box comes with a 16-page booklet with short liner notes by John McLaughlin and Richard Seidel.

The Inner Mounting Flame Tour was the first concert tour by the jazz fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra.


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