Classic Rock Review

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Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)

Carlos_Santana_&_Mahavishnu_John_McLaughlin-Love_Devotion_Surrender-FrontalFrom starling.rinet.ru

A great idea that unfortunately was not carried out ideally. It is indeed hard to imagine a more blistering pair than Carlos and the inimitable “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin, one of the most renowned jazz/jazz-rock guitarists of all time. And a lot of the stuff on their common project is awesome beyond words. But I feel that the resulting product does not entirely do justice to the talents of both. With a little more elaboration, a little more diversity, and a little less pretention, it could have been one of the greatest guitar albums of all time; as such, it is just a “technically immaculate” record.

It is still quite good, though. The backing band on here is mixed, with organ player Khalid Yasin being the only prominent member apart from the two string-bending dudes, and he’s excellent at his job, contributing worthy instrumental passages that are far less trivial and generally more polished technically than those of Gregg Rolie. All the other time, it’s just Santana and McLaughlin fighting off each other.

The songs on here are credited either to Coltrane or McLaughlin, but it really doesn’t matter because there are no “melodies” as such – just endless jamming on three lengthy marathons (‘A Love Supreme’, ‘The Life Divine’, ‘Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord’) which all sound basically the same. The sound that the guitarists achieve is indeed stellar: miriads of blistering arpeggios laid on each other at lightning speed, finger-flashing battles with the guitars soaring into the sky, falling down from an enormous height, swimming undewater, emerging and rising out again – ‘The Life Divine’ sounds like something absolutely impossible first time around.

I can’t even tell who exactly is playing – both guitars play more or less in the same style, and since both Carlos and John were tremendously well-practiced, it’s up to the real expert to tell. But that’s not a problem, and who cares anyway? The problem is, apart from those flashy duels, they hardly do anything else that would be interesting. With ten and fifteen-minute jams, you’d expect at least a careful approach to their structuring, with grappling build-ups and diverse approaches to playing.

But there are no build-ups at all: the guitarists just crash into whatever groove they find appropriate from the very beginning, and instead of steady climactic “rises” you get sloppy anti-climactic “falls” – after stunning you for two minutes or so with lightning-speed passages, they proceed to bore you for a couple more minutes with clearly inferior pieces. And when they skip the boring parts and proceed to a ‘never-ending cathartic groove’ on ‘Let Us Go…’, it’s actually worse: one can only experience a musical orgasm for so long, and when two guitar professionals challenge us with their inhumane skills and heavenly guitar workouts for ten years on end, the initial feeling of amazement and awe finally melts down to boredom.

I mean, it’s terrific to witness a juggler juggle his balls for two or three minutes without stopping, but when he goes on juggling until the tenth or fifteenth minute and you already understand very well that it is within his possibilities not to stop juggling until he drops dead, the novelty factor wears away and the rotten eggs make their appearance. Same here.

Some brief relief is being provided with short acoustic ‘interludes’ (‘Naima’, ‘Meditation’) which are pretty, but little else, and don’t really amount to much; McLaughlin fans probably won’t find anything new in them, and Santana fans will probably twirl their nose at such an untypical style.

It almost seems as if the duo were intentionally concentrating on just one type of sound, completely shrouded in their ‘cosmical conscience’ – this coincides with the peak of Santana’s spiritual period, and as for Mahavishnu, well, he’d always been a freaky kind of guy. So this album is not just a mindless jam session; no, it is obviously intended as some sort of ardent spiritual declaration for both (although the only lyrics on the album are the chantings of ‘a love supreme’ and ‘the life divine’, so some might not understand that). This means that some might actually tune their own soul up to the project and even find some deep religious meaning within.

Me, I just think there is a lot of beauty in these tunes, but an overabundance of beauty isn’t necessarily a good thing.

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April 6, 2013 - Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | ,

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