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Bill Laswell Carlos Santana: Divine Light Reconstruction & Mix Translation (2001)

cover_3711191112009From allmusic.com

If there were ever a golden opportunity for Bill Laswell, doing his trademark remixing style on Carlos Santana’s works was it. Here he chooses two of the guitarist’s most spiritual works, one the enduring and profoundly influential Love, Devotion & Surrender featuring John McLaughlin, and the other a more obscure but no less regarded album called Illuminations, recorded with Alice Coltrane, among others.

Laswell takes segments from each recording, alternates them, and attempts two things: to reconcile them to one another, and to create an entirely new work from the pair. By remixing the individual tunes, he creates a new vista to look at. His emphasis on bridging the gaps between Santana’s more restrained style on Illuminations and his rollicking, screaming-into-the-heavens assault featured on Love, Devotion & Surrender presents an intriguing, but problematic, situation.

Given the radically different emotions expressed on these records, it’s impossible to equate the tenor of Santana’s sound across the spectrum — even by adding and deleting effects. For one, the material on Illuminations doesn’t hold up as well. It was as much Coltrane’s date as it was Santana’s, and it wasn’t one of her best periods. An example of this is on “Angel of Air,” which opens the album. With overly lush string arrangements and crowded middle ranges where Jules Brossard’s hopelessly hackneyed soprano saxophone playing crowds the guitar space, Santana’s one moment of glorious fury in the entire 11 minutes is lost in the mix.

Despite a rhythm section that included Dave Holland, Don Alias, and Jack DeJohnette, the tune fails to light. As the grooves give way to “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane, with Larry Young’s organ ushering in the melody before the guitars enter, the overly packed notion opens into spaciousness. Here, despite the familiarity Santana fans have with the material, in this context it comes off as something new, removed from its original space and placed in amore urgent body. And it’s true: The material from this album is weighted with the burden of transcendence where the Illuminations tracks are merely fodder for added sound effects and deeper sounding rhythm tracks.

They float where the Love, Devotion & Surrender material soars, punches a hole in the sky, and carries the listener into an entirely new hearing space. The lone exception from the Illuminations material in terms of its ability to transcend Alice Coltrane’s string strangulation is “Angel of Sunlight,” which Santana co-wrote with Tom Coster. Here, the entire band — especially the rhythm section — breaks loose of the lurid fetters and pushes Santana…hard. Listeners can hear the struggle as he tried to come up with ideas to engage the rhythm section.

Laswell’s attention to detail here is admirable. He pumps up Holland’s bass in the mix and adds a shimmery tone to DeJohnette’s cymbal work that gives the piece an urgency it doesn’t possess on the original album. Unfortunately, he didn’t mix Brossard’s cheesy “I wish I was Coltrane” solo right out of the tune. Alas. Divine Light is a pleasant enough listen, one that provides enough depth and interesting pockets to keep one interested in the project. Musically, the majority of the album holds together.

But the rough spots and black holes — and there are more than a few — mar the proceedings in such a way that is discouraging. Given that this is not Stevie Ray Vaughan but the king of spiritual six-string transcendence, it is not remiss to have expected more of Laswell — especially given his wondrous treatments of Bob Marley and Miles Davis in the recent past. A near miss, but a miss nonetheless.

April 18, 2013 Posted by | Bill Laswell Carlos Santana Devine Light | | Leave a comment

Bill Laswell: Carlos Santana Devine Light (2001)

MI0000332289Bass player / producer Bill Laswell performs the same reconstructive surgery on the music of Carlos Santana that he previously did for electric Miles Davis (Panthalassa, 1998), and with equally stunning results.

This time he combines a pair of complementary but very different albums in his digital blender: Santana’s 1974 solo LP “Illuminations”, and “Love Devotion Surrender”, his 1973 collaboration with fellow guitar legend and Sri Chinmoy disciple John McLaughlin.

The track selection is split pretty evenly between the two original LPs, but the new musical facelift seamlessly melds everything together into an exciting hybrid even stronger than the sum of its parts.

The music itself showcases two virtuosos at the top of their game, and newly transfigured by the spiritual teachings of their shared guru. But don’t let the starry-eyed Eastern mysticism of song titles like “The Life Divine” or “Bliss: The Eternal Now” scare you away.

The performances owe their (considerable) energy more to the engine of early ’70s Jazz-Rock Fusion, in this case with a strong John Coltrane connection: “LDS” was a tribute album of sorts to the celebrated Jazz saxman, and “Illuminations” was recorded with Coltrane’s widow Alice, who contributed the gorgeous harp and string arrangements.

What Laswell adds is a discreet measure of enhancement, clarification and focus, all applied with the utmost respect for his sources. This isn’t your typically slapdash remix album. It holds together more like an extended sixty-minute suite, from the pinpoint acoustic perfection of McLaughlin’s “Naima” to the ecstatic fusion guitar fury of Santana’s “Angel of Sunlight”, and from the unbelievably lush orchestral sweep of “Angel of Air” to the propulsive rhythms of “A Love Supreme”, in which the two guitar heroes trade lightning solos over a bed of Latin percussion.

Imagine a shotgun marriage between Santana (the band) and McLaughlin’s first Mahavishnu Orchestra (members of both groups are prominently featured), with Laswell presiding over the ceremony.

The only reason I’m denying his remix the five stars of an acknowledged masterpiece is because all the material is pre-existing (and I’m not familiar with the original Illuminations album).

But this disc is truly something special, and deserves more exposure than it so far has received here at Prog Archives.

March 8, 2013 Posted by | Bill Laswell Carlos Santana Devine Light | | Leave a comment