Birds of Fire
Birds of Fire is the second and final studio album by the original, "classic" Mahavishnu lineup, but it's also a cornerstone of the jazz-rock fusion canon. For one thing, the interplay between the front line of guitar hero John McLaughlin, keyboardist Jan Hammer, and former Flock violinist Jerry Goodman is even more fiery and intense here than on the debut album. When the three of them start trading fours (following a lengthy, funky Rick Laird bass solo) on "One Word," it's like the fusion-era equivalent of an old-school bebop cutting session. Of course, McLaughlin's blistering licks are all over the record, but moments like the brassy synth solo on "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters" give hints of the greatness still to come from Hammer. But beyond all the smoldering solos, the tunes by bandleader and sole composer McLaughlin stand as much more than mere vehicles for jamming; they emerge as striking statements in and of themselves, be they contemplative pieces like the acoustic-based "Thousand Island Park" or one of the album's many barn-burners.