Mahavishnu Orchestra

The Mahavishnu Orchestra were a multinational jazz-rock ensemble that was active during the early-to-mid-1970s and again during the mid-1980s. Led through all phases by English guitarist John McLaughlin, the lineup underwent two incarnations between 1971 and 1976.

The first incarnation was a five-piece band with Czech keyboardist Jan Hammer, Irish bassist Rick Laird, and two Americans — violinist Jerry Goodman and drummer Billy Cobham. This lineup released three albums on Columbia: The Inner Mounting Flame (1971), Birds of Fire (1973), and the live Beyond Nothingness and Eternity (1973).

The second incarnation was an augmented quintet that included, among others, French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and American drummer Narada Michael Walden. This lineup issued the albums Apocalypse (1974) and Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1975) on Columbia.

Members: John McLaughlin (guitar), Billy Cobham (drums, 1971-73, 1984), Jan Hammer (synthesizer, organ, 1971-73), Jerry Goodman (violin, 1971-73), Rick Laird (bass, 1971-73), Jean-Luc Ponty (violin, 1974-75), Gayle Moran (keyboards, vocals, 1974-75), Narada Michael Walden (drums, vocals, 1974-76), Ralphe Armstrong (bass, vocals, 1974-76), Stu Goldberg (keyboards, 1976), Mitchel Forman (keyboards, 1984-86), Bill Evans (tenor saxophone, 1984-87), Jonas Hellborg (bass, 1984-87), Danny Gottlieb (drums, 1985-87), Jim Beard (keyboards, 1987)


The Mahavishnu Orchestra was the brainchild of guitarist John McLaughlin, who sought to fuse the chromatic fluidity of jazz with the electric intensity of rock.

A 10-year music veteran, McLaughlin played in an early lineup of the Graham Bond Organization before apprenticing in the London jazz scene under Howard Blake and Gordon Beck. After cutting his first solo album, he moved to the U.S., where he joined Tony Williams’ Lifetime and partook in the sessions that produced the 1969/70 Miles Davis albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

For his 1971 third solo album My Goal’s Beyond, McLaughlin enlisted ex-Dreams drummer (and fellow Davis sideman) Billy Cobham and former Flock violinist Jerry Goodman. Both men accepted McLaughlin’s invitation to join his new band. Bassist Rick Laird knew McLaughlin from when they both played in Brian Auger‘s backing band during the mid-’60s. Jan Hammer was introduced to the band by Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitouš, who’d played with the keyboardist in a Prague-based jazz trio.

(The term “Mahavishnu,” which McLaughlin first affixed to his name on My Goal’s Beyond, refers to the ultimate deity or absolute truth in Hinduism.)


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