Classic Rock Review

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Carlos Santana Illuminations (1974)


Well, this is another album recorded by Devadip Carlos Santana in his endless quest for spiritual rebirth, this time apired with yet another servant of the light, John Coltrane’s widow Alice. That said, it doesn’t sound a bit like Love, Devotion And Surrender; there, John McLaughlin was the rightful partner in his own rights, here Mrs Coltrane just adds a few harp and keyboard parts and doesn’t sound particularly prominent.

Then again, neither does Carlos himself – he refrains from finger-flashing arpeggiated battles almost completely, and chooses a softer and less dynamic tone for the album. The accent is placed on the equality of all the instruments: Illuminations are supposed to be floating around the listener without disturbing him. If anybody sounds a bit louder and more prominent than the other, it’s probably the sax player Jules Broussard.

And that’s a big problem with the album – despite the stately title, pompous album cover and the ‘grand pair of stars’ dominating it, it’s not actually providing us with anything particularly ‘illuminating’. I mean, if you’ve never heard any free-form jazz or proto-ambient noodling in your life before, it sure will be awesome. But you probably have, and as such, the album should really only work for those who can’t get enough of… of…

See, here’s what they can’t get enough of. The first side opens on a positively suspicious note, with a few chants of ‘Ommmm’ and a brief aphorism from Santana’s spiritual guru. One minute eaten up. Next, we have the lengthy ‘Angel Of Air/Angel Of Water’ suite, and ‘Bliss, The Eternal Now’. Never could tell one from another. In any case, these numbers are the saving grace of the record, because they are very, very pretty. It’s pure undiluted atmosphere, but a very well constructed one, far richer in textures and instrumentation than your average ambient record and very appropriate to fit in with the surrealistic, religious album cover.

You certainly won’t remember a note once the side has elapsed, but it makes up for wonderful relaxation music while it’s on: moody, gentle, peaceful, with bits of tender guitar solos, celestial keyboard passages and slow silky sax serenades. Oh, and don’t forget the orchestration – rich orchestrated arrangements that you’ll rarely meet on a proper Santana album. Maybe not such a perfect bet for the greatest meditation soundtrack as Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, but certainly far more musically exciting than the latter.

And, of course, if one wanted to, one could write a BOOK on these two compositions, telling about the different shades of emotions and mental activity reflected in each of the song’s passages, but if I wanted to write a book on a rock record, it would probably be on Blonde On Blonde first. I love Carlos, but he’s not that high on my list.

Besides, the second side on here pretty much sucks. (All you lovers of avantgarde jazz – come on out and meet me in the open!). Most of it is occupied by the never ending ‘Angel Of Sunlight’, a free-form improvisation apparently dedicated to John Coltrane, but nowhere near as interesting as the best of the grand master’s own compositions. Not that I’m a big fan or connoisseur of Coltrane, but these fourteen minutes are just a mockery anyway.

I have nothing against Broussard and Santana launching a ‘power battle’, but why make it sound like they’re both on autopilot? They seem to just be off their heads, playing random, unrelated, monotonous speedy passages that amount to utter chaos and – dare I say it? – boredom. And furthermore, we have already witnessed Santana’s technique many times. At least on Love, Devotion and Surrender these solos had a cathartic edge to them. Here, they don’t have anything.

And where the hell is Alice Coltrane? Looks like she only has the chance to appear on the last track, the title one, dominated by minimalistic keyboards, harp and orchestra with next to no guitar. Amazingly, it’s a nice piece, more in the classical vein than anything else on here, and it offers a good solution to the record.

And I think I’ll finally go to sleep now. Oh wait, there’s more…

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana Illuminations | | Leave a comment