Pazz and Jop 1971 – #17

Mahavishnu Orchestra – The Inner Mounting Flame

As we move down the list, some strange records start to turn up. That’s to be expected – it takes less consensus on an album’s merits to be voted the 17th best of a year as compared to anything higher ranked. Which brings me to this enormous mess of an LP. This is where my limitations as a reviewer come to full bloom, because I don’t even have the language to talk about this in a way that means anything (this will be a common refrain as we encounter anything that attaches the word “jazz” to itself), as opposed to more popular music, where I can connect it to other things I know well (like “that time when Kanye West lost his mind” (pretty much everything after “Graduation”) or “that time Garth Brooks thought growing a soul patch made him cool” (you know)).

It’s definitely an album that requires immersive and focussed listening for a newbie to make sense of: listen #1 on earbuds while walking in my neighbourhood left me confused, but listen #2 on my couch with big Bose headphones allowed me to hear more of the nuances (while still being very confused). I don’t know what this is supposed to be – it’s labelled jazz fusion, but the guitar rocks as hard as anything I’ve heard during this journey through 1971. (It makes a bit more sense now that I see Kamasi Washington, possibly the only jazz artist who I’ve ever listened to with actual intent, is also considered a jazz fusionist.) I can’t even begin to consider recommending this, because I don’t know what this is. But I will definitely listen to it again, because sometimes my need to understand something prevails over all common sense. Those who know me best will not be surprised by this.

(Also, do check out Kamasi Washington, you will not regret it (or maybe you will, I don’t know, I’m just rambling here). Start with “Harmony of Difference”, which is how I was first exposed to his brilliance.)

(Originally posted on Facebook, April 24, 2021)