Mahavishnu Orchestra Biography

Led by guitarist John McLaughlin (4 January 1942, Yorkshire, England), between 1972 and 1976 the Mahavishnu Orchestra played a leading part in the creation of jazz rock fusion music. Mahavishnu was the name given to McLaughlin by his Hindu guru Snr i Chimnoy, and the unit’s early work showed the influence of Indian ragas. The first line-up included several musicians who had played on McLaughlin’s The Inner Mounting Flame. The high-energy electric music created by keyboard player Jan Hammer, ex-Flock violinist Jerry Goodman, bass player Rick Laird and drummer Billy Cobham made Birds Of Fire a Top 20 hit in the USA. After releasing the live Between Nothingness And Eternity, whose lengthy ‘Dreams’ sequence featured spectacular duetting between the guitarist and Cobham, McLaughlin split the unit. A year later, he re-formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra with entirely new personnel. Jean-Luc Ponty replaced Goodman, Narada Michael Walden took over on drums, with Gayle Moran on keyboards and vocals, and there was in addition a four-piece string section. This line-up made Apocalypse with producer George Martin. In 1975, Ponty left and keyboard player Stu Goldberg played on the final albums. McLaughlin next decided to pursue classical Indian music more rigorously in the acoustic quartet Shakti, but Cobham and Hammer in particular carried on the Mahavishnu approach to jazz rock in their later work. Moran played with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever while Walden became a noted soul music producer in the 80s. An attempt to revive the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the mid-80s resulted in one unsuccessful album for Warner Brothers Records, with McLaughlin joined by Cobham, saxophonist Bill Evans, keyboard player Mitchell Forman, bass player Jonas Hellborg, and percussionist Danny Gottlieb.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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