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Mahavishnu Orchestra

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Title: Mahavishnu Orchestra  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: John McLaughlin (musician), Apocalypse (Mahavishnu Orchestra album), Jan Hammer, Adventures in Radioland, Inner Worlds
Collection: American Jazz Ensembles, Jazz Fusion Ensembles, Mahavishnu Orchestra Members
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Mahavishnu Orchestra

Mahavishnu Orchestra
Left to right: Jerry Goodman, Jan Hammer, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Rick Laird
Background information
Origin New York City, United States
Genres Jazz fusion, progressive rock
Years active 1971–1976, 1984–1987
Labels Columbia
Associated acts Shakti, The One Truth Band, The Translators, The John McLaughlin Guitar Trio
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 was a jazz-rock fusion group led by John McLaughlin, active during 1971–1976 and again in 1984–1987 after major line-up changes.[1]


  • First Mahavishnu Orchestra 1
  • The split of the original line-up 2
  • Second Mahavishnu Orchestra 3
  • Later developments 4
  • Band Members 5
    • Timeline 5.1
  • Discography 6
    • Studio albums 6.1
    • Live albums 6.2
  • Sources 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

First Mahavishnu Orchestra

The band's original lineup featured "Mahavishnu" John McLaughlin on acoustic and electric guitars, with members Billy Cobham on drums, Rick Laird on bass guitar (although Tony Levin was the first person McLaughlin called to join the band),[2][3] Jan Hammer on electric and acoustic piano and synthesizer, and Jerry Goodman on violin. This first incarnation of the ensemble was a multinational group: McLaughlin is from Yorkshire, England; Cobham from Panama; Hammer from Prague, Czechoslovakia; Goodman from Chicago, Illinois; and Laird from Dublin, Ireland. This group was considered an important pioneer in the jazz fusion movement. McLaughlin and Cobham met while performing and recording with Miles Davis during the Bitches Brew sessions. McLaughlin was also influenced in his conception of the band by his studies with Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, who encouraged him to take the name "Mahavishnu" which means "Divine compassion, power and justice." or simply "Great Vishnu", an aspect of Vishnu.

McLaughlin had particular ideas for the instrumentation of the group, in keeping with his highly original concept of genre-blending in composition. He particularly wanted a violinist as an integral contributor to its overall sound. As the group evolved, McLaughlin adopted what became his visual trademark — a double neck guitar (six-string and twelve-string) which allowed for a great degree of diversity in musical textures—and Hammer became one of the first to play a Mini Moog synthesizer in an ensemble, which enabled him to add more sounds and solo more freely, alongside the guitar and the violin.

Their musical style was an original blend of genres: they combined the high-volume electrified rock sound that had been pioneered by Jimi Hendrix (whom McLaughlin had jammed with on his initial arrival in New York as part of the Tony Williams Lifetime), complex rhythms in unusual time signatures that reflected McLaughlin's interest in Indian classical music as well as funk, and harmonic influence from European classical music. The group's early music, represented on such albums as The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1973), was entirely instrumental; their later albums had songs which sometimes featured R&B or even gospel/hymn-styled vocals. In the aforementioned two albums, the group goes from an energetic fusion of upbeat genres (a representative example of which is the song "Vital Transformation") to very serene, chamber music-like tunes, such as "A Lotus On Irish Streams," a composition for acoustic guitar, piano and violin, and "Thousand Island Park," which drops the violin and incorporates double bass; or from low-key to extremely busy in a single piece, such as "Open Country Joy."

The split of the original line-up

Due to the pressures of sudden fame, exhaustion and a lack of communication, the original band began to tire as 1973 continued. The stress was further exacerbated by a disastrous recording session (from a personal relationship standpoint) at London's Trident Studios that found some of the players not speaking to others. Their project was never fully completed. The last straw came as John McLaughlin read an interview in Crawdaddy! magazine in which Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman expressed their frustrations with John's leadership style. An effort to fix things back in New York fell through. Later on in the 1970s, McLaughlin stated in an interview in Gig magazine that he would like the album to come out, as he thought it was good. In its place, the live album Between Nothingness & Eternity was released featuring material from the studio album. Almost 30 years later, during the beginning of a renaissance of Mahavishnu's music, the incomplete album from the failed London recording was released as The Lost Trident Sessions.

Second Mahavishnu Orchestra

After the original group dissolved, it reformed in 1974 with a new cast of musicians behind McLaughlin: Geoff Emerick engineering the sessions. 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.

Later developments

After the dissolution of this version of the Orchestra, McLaughlin formed another group called Shakti to explore his interest in Indian music; 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 Lucia.

In 1984, McLaughlin reformed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with 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.

McLaughlin then worked with a number of incarnations of the John McLaughlin Guitar Trio, all of which featured Dennis Chambers on drums, as well as touring and recording again with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía.

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 the latter. 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.

There has been a resurgence of interest in the Mahavishnu Orchestra in recent years, with bands like The Mars Volta and Cynic naming them as an influence. 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.[4] "You Know, You Know" was sampled in Massive Attack's "One Love", Mos Def's "Kalifornia."

Band Members



Studio albums

Title Album details Peak chart positions
US Jazz
The Inner Mounting Flame
  • Released: August 14, 1971[9]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, LP, digital download[10]
89 11
Birds of Fire
  • Released: March 29, 1973[11]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, Q8, digital download[12]
15 29 18 20
with London Symphony Orchestra
  • Released: March, 1974[13]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, LP, Q8, digital download[14]
43 10
Visions of the Emerald Beyond
  • Released: February, 1975[15]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, Q8, digital download[16]
68 18
Inner Worlds
  • Released: January, 1976[17]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP, Q8, digital download[18]
118 24
  • Released: 1984[19]
  • Label: WEA Musik, Warner Bros.
  • Formats: CD, CS, LP
Adventures in Radioland
  • Released: 1987
  • Label: Relativity, PolyGram
  • Formats: CD, LP, digital download[20]
The Lost Trident Sessions
  • Released: September 21, 1999[21]
  • Label: Sony
  • Formats: CD, HDCD, digital download[22]
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Live albums

Title Album details Peak chart positions
Between Nothingness & Eternity
  • Released: November, 1973[23]
  • Label: C.B.S., Columbia
  • Formats: CD, LP, Q8, digital download[24]
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.


  • Kolosky, Walter (2006). Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra


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  4. ^ Kolosky, Walter. "Mahavishnu Orchestra - Planetary Citizen". JAZZ.COM. Retrieved 8 December 2012. 
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External links

  • Power, Passion and Beauty, The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu-Orchestra
  • Official Jan Hammer website
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miami Vice and More - Jan Hammer interview
  • "Acceptable [sic] Fusion: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1973", by Dinky Dawson, Crawdaddy!, September 19, 2007.
  • "Two Sides to Every Satori", a John McLaughlin interview, Crawdaddy!, November 1973.
  • John McLaughlin video interview at
  • Jean-Luc Ponty interview at
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