Classic Rock Review

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Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)


This disc is an absolute knock out. The music has withstood the test of time, the lp in vinyl form was released in 1973 as a departure from the gold lined, glittering road of commercial success that Santana had paved. Disappointing to many, a revelation to others, this LP at the time was met with great scepticism and controversy.

After all how could someone duplicate John Coltrane’s suite, “A Love Supreme? ” What was Santana doing with another guitar player, and not just any guitar player but John McLaughlin. And who was the Eastern fellow in the robe? And why did he look so different and what was up with the white outfits? The answers were in the music and Santana was definitely on a journey or a spiritual quest .

The attempt to record “A Love Supreme,” still fresh in the minds of jazz heads as the one of the ultimate Trane compositions that had religious qualities besides outstanding technique and tremendous exploration seemed almost blasphemous. Santana and McLaughlin’s version is a jazz-rock fusion masterpiece where the guitar solos are presented in blistering fashion at a frenetic pace that was otherworldly, almost to the point of inhuman speed and dexterity as though the other side were intervening to guide the then young musicians along the righteous path.

Beginning with the faster than the speed of light fret work slowed down by the organ tempo to Trane’ s “ta-ta ta tah” melody only to be pushed further along, at a blazing guitar pace that is (was)like to two gunslingers firing endless rounds of ammo from a machine gun. The lightning pace slows and builds several times in an expressive recreation of the spirit of Trane, free flowing improvisation kept in check by the lyrical beauty of “A Love Supreme.”

It is a beautiful thing. Another John Coltrane composition is presented which also happens to be one of my favourite (like anybody cares)Trane tunes entitled “Naima. ” The guitarists trade in their electric guitar speed for a softer with less edge melody that is soothing and lovely much like the original by Trane. It is one of the most beautiful jazz ballads ever written and performed with exquisite tenderness and respect. In a sense this was (is) a tribute disc , a further exploration of the spiritual path through music, breaking the chains and confinement of commercial success to make a musical statement graced in light and love along the lines of what Trane did when he recorded “A Love Supreme”.

There is(was) nothing irreverent here but rather Santana was(is) paying homage. Take a look at the names of the songs. “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord,” Meditation” and “The Divine Life.” Santana was leaving and anyone who wanted to see where he was going could go or compare notes from their own experiences. The guitar work by both of thee guys was(is) just amazing. The interchange , from one channel to the other is un-Godly or better yet, inspired by God. There is just enough variety in terms of fast guitar work and slower acoustic sounds to create a balance.

However the interchange between the two guitarists is absolutely incredible and not to be missed if you like rock guitar. For that matter the whole set of musicians is like an all star cast with Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer sharing the drum roles along with Don Alias. The stellar cast further includes the late Armando Peraza on congas and James (Mingo) Lewis on percussion. If you are rebuilding your collection or rediscovering your musical treasures add this one to the collection.

If you are new to Santana and keep reading old grey beards refer to his older albums that were better, than this might one of those. Not for everyone but surely for those that appreciate outstanding inspired guitar work with only hints of the Latinesque elements often associated with Carlos Santana.

April 14, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)


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.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana & John McLaighlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)


Two guitar giants. A collective band comprised of virtuosic instrumentalists. One shared goal. And one tremendous album, commonly referred to as the equivalent of aural nirvana. Still the only meeting of Santana and John McLaughlin, Love Devotion Surrender more than lives up to the promise offered by its principal creators as it’s a spiritual journey based in divine faith, religious toleration, and the forward-thinking philosophy that music can take us closer to the truth. These enlightening concepts are reflected in the playing of Santana and McLaughlin, who repeatedly hit a higher plane on this stunning 1973 set.

Re-mastered from the original analog master tapes, Love Devotion Surrender benefits from Mobile Fidelity’s meticulous engineering, with the windows on the finite give-and-take passages, sustained notes, and acoustic textures thrown open on hybrid SACD with palpable transparency and exquisite detail. Brimming with atmospheric textures, three-dimensional spaciousness, and sterling microdynamics, this version follows on the heels of Mobile Fidelity’s definitive, critically acclaimed editions of Santana, Abraxas, and Caravanserai.

Having each become a follower of Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, Santana and McLaughlin began playing together in 1972, with each legend currently in the midst of personal and creative transition. Santana was moving away from rock-based songs in favor of exploratory jazz-rock fusion. McLaughlin had already achieved fame with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, on the brink of collapse due to disagreements within the band. On Love Devotion Surrender, the duo pools its interest in spirituality and transcendence into expressively gorgeous art steeped in improvisational lines, ecstatic chords, and sensitive organ accompaniment courtesy of the record’s best-kept secret, Larry Young.

In addition to the search for sacred soulfulness, the common denominator throughout is John Coltrane, who engaged in similar pursuits during the 1960s. Two of the five compositions are interpretations of Coltrane standards while the lynchpin, a nearly 16-minute investigation into the traditional “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord,” seamlessly integrates melodic structure, jazz phrasing, gospel mysticism, and tonal shaping into one of the most hopeful and uplifting pieces of music you’ll ever hear.

Laden with delicate acoustic touches and gentle piano touches as well as powerful staccato bursts and fast-paced bongo percussion, Love Devotion Surrender contains a highly dynamic mix of tempos, textures, and contrasts that have never shone like they do on Mobile Fidelity’s numbered, limited-edition hybrid SACD. This audiophile edition brings the performers’ spirituality to the fore with extraordinary realism, while the pinpoint imaging—Santana primarily on the left, McLaughlin on the right—allows each musicians’ contributions to soar. If you’re a fan of the guitar, jazz, or music that literally elevates you to an ethereal place, this is a must.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)


Once upon a time, Carlos Santana was a guitarist with lofty thoughts in his mind. Loftier than playing soulless licks over Michelle Branch and Rob Thomas hits, anyway. In 1972, under the tutelage of Shri Chinmoy, he teamed with John McLaughlin, guitarist and leader of the fusion pioneers Mahavishnu Orchestra, to put together an album celebrating the themes of Chinmoy’s teachings. Their intent was to create a work of art that dedicated itself to God and man, and love and dedication to both.

Love Surrender Devotion is the resulting work. The album finds the two with a seasoned group of their buddies: Khalid Yasin (Larry Young) on organ, James “Mingo” Lewis and Armando Peraza on percussion, Doug Pauch on bass and Billy Cobham, Don Alias and Jan Hammer on the drum kit.

The album opens with a raucous take on Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, which sets the template for everything that follows. McLaughlin supplies his usual speed-demon technique, sweeping furiously across the fretboard with plenty of overdrive, while Santana opts for more elongated arcs, often bending and stretching notes in a restrained, yearning fashion. Another Coltrane reading follows, and “Naima” finds the two guitarists hushed and reverent, employing acoustic guitar and fingerpicking. It’s the first (and last) time the album relaxes before the end, and it’s over before you realize it.

McLaughlin’s composition “The Life Divine” closes side one, and from its first, stuttered drum beat, one can hear the template for everything The Mars Volta are still trying to pull off. The bass guitar pulses in sync with the galloping drums, while Santana and McLaughlin hold absolutely nothing back. Over prayerful vocal incantations, the two play tug of war with each other, occasionally allowing their parts to dissipate to mere feedback before roaring back to life. It’s brilliant and terrifying, the kind of statement you might expect from Pharaoh Sanders or Sonny Sharrock, not the guy who played “Oya Como Va.”

“Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord” also echoes Sanders, who would later go on to try his own hand at the song. It features touches of the Latin rock sound that Santana was employing to great success with his own group. Here Young’s organ playing gets as far out as either of the guitarists, pushing the song into near atonal territory, while McLaughlin and Santana plow through aggressive runs, mimicking with their guitars the qualities Coltrane and Davis exhibited on their instruments. While the MC5 talked about the same thing, and helped invent punk rock in their attempt, their approach lacked the spirituality Santana and McLaughlin are dealing with here. I want to call it destructive, but that’s just not the right term. Passionate, frightening, fierce; all fall short of describing just how on fire these two guitarists sound.

Another McLaughlin composition, “Meditation” closes the album (it’s funny that this is listed as a Santana album, considering he didn’t actually write any tunes for it), allowing the peacefulness of “Naima” to return. Santana contributes graceful flamenco runs over McLaughlin’s subtle piano, and the two bring the album to a mellow close.

If Santana had kept up this sort of sonic freakiness up, you might hear his name tossed around more by esteemed noisemakers like Thurston Moore. And while McLaughlin is well regarded in jazz circles, allowing soulful collaborators like Santana to help balance his often overwhelming approach would certainly have endured him to the rock world at large. Rarely would their following work reach the heights of this album. McLaughlin would continue to hone his chops, and Santana’s work would spiral into the depths of commercial pop. Regardless of record sales, I find it hard to believe that Carlos is still “reaching” while he’s playing over that Nickelback dude’s jam. I guess he must have surrendered to someone or something other than God.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)


This recording never attained the lift-off that should have accompanied an effort from two mega-stars. Perhaps it was cultish feel of the album, starting with the title and the images of McLaughlin and Santana on the cover, both dressed all in white and standing meekly in awe of their guru, Sri Chinmoy.

However, the music was not the devotional new-age fare one might expect from the album cover. Instead, there was a jazz nonet with Santana and McLauglin backed by organ, bass and five percussionists playing two John Coltrane standards and other tunes composed by the two leaders.

Take away the album’s title and cover and there is really nothing here that should scare lovers of jazz fusion. The music is some of the best of its type to come out of that period. But there was another reason this record may not have enjoyed the success it deserved, and it’s the sound of the original LP. Most of the fusion released in the 1970s was recorded by Columbia, which was not turning out its finest pressings during that decade.

To make matters worse, the mastering engineer seemed to have a much heavier hand on the controls than a decade earlier. Some of Columbia’s worst 1970s masterings were of jazz-rock fusion recordings, perhaps because the loudness of the music inspired more limiting to keep cartridges from mistracking.

This SACD helps repair the damage. It joins the ranks of several ’70s jazz LPs have come alive on digital and LP remasterings in the 21st century, the products of more sensible mastering. Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters was released on Blu-Spec CD in the last couple years. While the original LP was a massive hit, the improved sound of this CD is equally massive. An album I never quite connected with in 1973 now sounds fresh.

The same can be said for Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, which was released on 45rpm vinyl last year, sounding far better than the original. This newly buffed-up SACD mastering from Rob LoVerde is equally fine and improves upon the original LP in similar ways. You can now turn the music up (and this music calls for it) without having your whole system plunge into a sea of distortion.

If you love hard-driving guitar backed by jazz greats Larry Young on organ and Billy Cobham on drums, playing a memorable version of “A Love Supreme” along with other equally fine tunes, this is the SACD for you. Just close your eyes if you don’t want to see Carlos and John with their heads bowed in prayer.

It’s what’s inside that counts.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)


Almost immediately following Carlos Santana’s solo project, Caravanserai, came a collaboration between himself and fellow Sri Chinmoy follower, John McLaughlin. Santana had been a huge fan of McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and tried to catch the band in concert whenever he could.

It was Clive Davis of Columbia Records that first mentioned the idea of the two guitar virtuosos collaborating later on in October. The album was to pay homage to John Coltrane, and provoke deeper spiritual meaning, along the main themes of Love, Devotion and Surrender.

After Coltrane’s death in 1967, no one had ever attempted to perform “A Love Supreme” out of respect for him. Most found it to be simply to big of a burden, but McLaughlin and Santana were able to pull it off, using the theme from “Acknowledgement” from Coltrane’s masterpiece. Doug Rauch, Mahalakshami Eve McLaughlin, Khalid Yasin, Mingo Lewis, Billy Cobham, Don Alias, Jan Hammer, Mike Shrieve and Armando Peraza were all recruited as musicians for this momentous guitar summit.

The album starts of with “A Love Supreme” being one of the two songs by John Coltrane on the album. As soon as it starts, you are enveloped in the sound of the duo’s guitars, and the amazing improvisation that is found throughout the rest of the album kicks off here. Besides the incredible guitar playing, the drums and percussion really stand out. This isn’t too surprising when we see that 5 of the musicians on the album are on percussion.

The thing about this album is, it is very fast paced and doesn’t leave you bored. In fact, every time I listen to it, I hear something more. It’s a very interesting album that I think people would have a lot of fun listening to. On the other hand, this album is also deeply spiritual.

This is most obviously evident when reading the original liner notes, which are too long to post here, but a quick google search should be able to find them if you are interested in reading them. After reading them, the album has another sense to it, and you are able to feel and hear the more spiritual elements of the music.

The sound of the album generally consists of blazing guitars, fast, upbeat tempos, interesting timings and phrasings, accompanied by incredible drumming and eerie organs and keyboards. The entire thing brings almost a holy feel too the table, which is really what this album is based around. The songs are generally quite long, to facilitate the extended improvisation between the two guitarists. As I said earlier however, it isn’t particularly easy to get bored of the album though, as everything is fairly upbeat.

However, not all of the tracks have overdriven guitars jamming it out. The track Naima is one of he most beautiful tracks on the entire album, featuring some incredible acoustic guitars, and soulful playing. It appears to me as sort of a reality check after all of the incredible solos and catchy choruses and riffs. After “Let Us Go to the House of the Lord” comes another beautiful track called “Meditation”. The name is fitting, and is simply the two guitarists playing acoustic guitars, accompanied by some soft and mellow piano.

If you are a fan of instrumental music, you will like this album. If you are a fan of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, you will love this album. If you are a guitarist, this is a must have album. It’s not often that an album really moves me, but this one certainly did. When you really listen to this album, it becomes quite clear, and you are able to see the themes of this album and what the music is all about.

Of course, the liner notes are very beneficial to understanding everything, so I recommend reading them if you are able to.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , , | Leave a comment