Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! (1972)


Review There seem to be all sorts of urban legends surrounding this 1972 Top Ten album from Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles. Some people claim that the concert never took place, which seems unlikely since Santana and Miles toured together extensively in late 1971 and early 1972. Others suggest that Carlos played little on the disc, and while I respect the six-string talents of Neal Schon (who legend also says turned down an invitation from Eric Clapton to flesh out Derek and the Dominos to play with Santana’s band, and who built a great reputation for himself as lead guitarist for Journey), there are numerous guitar runs on ‘Live!’ that have S-A-N-T-A-N-A written all over them. I think many of the myth-makers are deluded by the overly-engineered master tapes. It was common practice in the early seventies to modulate the amplitude of the crowd noise, as is evident on programs such as ABC-TV’s ‘In Concert’ late night program, and this seems to be what was done with ‘Live!’. While it sounds hokey at times, that doesn’t mean the performances didn’t happen.

Perhaps also lending to the controversy is the liner notes listing the recording date as “January 0, 1972”, a non-existant date, suggesting the concert never happened. But the concert actually took place in Hawaii, in the center of the Diamond Head volcanic crater, on January 1, 1972 during the ‘Sunshine ’72 Festival’. Supporting that fact is a collage of about fourteen photographs from the concert itself. I can see Carlos playing guitar in several of them, and there’s a number of Hawaiian-looking people standing around as well. That’s proof enough for me. I guess this one doesn’t rise to the level of the McCartney death hoax!

Fortunately, the music does rise to the occasion. I first acquired a copy of this disc as one of my 12 “free” records when I joined the Columbia Record Club. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but in 1972 most people were convinced you couldn’t go wrong with Carlos Santana, and I was one of them. I wasn’t disappointed. While it may take a little time and a few listens for the 25 minute plus ‘Free Form Funkafide Filth’ to grow on you… it does. I’m not sure how ‘free form’ this filth is (it’s credited to Miles, Santana, drummer Gregg Errico, and bassist Ron Johnson), but it manages to hit a funk groove on several occasions and passes the ample running time (especially for a vinyl disc) admirably.

The real gem, however, is side one. While the track listing lists five seperate tracks, tracks one and two (‘Marbles’ and ‘Lava’) and tracks four and five (‘Faith Interlude’ and Mile’s best known composition, ‘Them Changes’) segue seamlessly into one another, creating a musical suite. Only an upbeat, horn augmented version of ‘Evil Ways’ stands alone, almost as a centerpiece. All of these tracks, save ‘Faith Interlude’, which is perfectly titled given it’s bouyant strains, are funky tomes of dynamite. Robert Hogins on organ and Coke Escovedo on timbales, along with a trio of conga players, do yoeman’s work keeping up with Santana, Schon, and Miles. Over the years these tracks have merged in my mind, and belong together as one piece of work every bit as much as the flip side of the original vinyl disc.

This is at least the third time this disc has been reissued, having been remastered in 1994 and reissued in 2005. The pressed copies of the 2005 release must have gone quickly, explaining the need for this 2008 reissue. Sadly, no additional tracks have ever been added to any of the reissues, suggesting that no additional quality recordings from the concert exist. That’s a little hard to believe, but what else could explain it? If additional material comparable to what is being offered here is ever released, criminal negligence charges should be levied against Bob Irwin, the “Reissue Producer”, for keeping it under wraps for so long. Regardless, your classic rock collection isn’t complete without this one.

Review Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live!…was recorded on New Year’s Day, 1972 at the Sunshine ’72 Festival inside Diamond Head volcano crater, Honolulu Hawaii. Carlos was coming off the massive commercial success highs of three critically acclaimed Santana albums, but was moving away from the Latin rock format he had pioneered and was taking more and more aggressive steps towards focusing his attentions and talents on fusion jazz.

Carlos though was a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, very evident in his pre-studio and early studio playing techniques and extremely evident in the unreleased 1967 single “Ballin'” a gigantic homage to Jimi! The chance to team up with Band Of Gypsy’s drummer Buddy Miles was as close as he would ever get to meshing with one of his guitar heroes. As a matter of force, Carlos and Buddy were accompanied on this record and in the concert with some main elements of Santana (the band) including 2nd guitarist and soon to be founder of Journey, Neal Schon.

The concert album kicks off with a two-part jam penned by Carlos’ new guitar hero John McLaughlin in the first part (Marbles) and by Buddy in the 2nd drum led part (Lava). An R&B funky version of Evil Ways, with lead vocals by Buddy offers a unique take on the hit single. I’ve been listening to this for nearly 40 years and the jury is still out. As a live performance it has its merits, but in comparison to the Santana original, it is a few bricks shy of a full load for me. The opening song Marbles is much better by a mile (no pun intended), but the closer to side one of the album, a newly refreshed version of Band Of Gypsy’s hit Them Changes is the stand out track here.

Them Changes has even more intense energy than ever, the lead guitar work by young Carlos is a flaming blaze of glory that rivals (and possibly outshines) the Hendrix original work (shame on me!) and the added brass horns make this a one of a kind remake! Now if you like Woodstock/Live at the Fillmore-wherever long jam sessions, filled with overlapping and exchanged leads from every musician on the stage, laid down with a 70’s-funk R&B bottom, then the 25 minute long Free Form Funkafide Filth, the whole side two of the original vinyl, is where it is at. You might like it, you might not, you might just have to be “in the mood”. Anyway you cut it, the concert album is high-energy, raw, naked talent complete with all the warts.

A Santana collector or completist will need this album, a big fan will want it, a casual fan will have to evaluate if the representative style here warrants the purchase (at the Amazon price of 6 bucks that’s a big a-duh). This is a Buddy Miles delivering the goods he always makes great. This is a Carlos as usual unparalleled on guitar and backed up with his legendary 2nd, Neal Schon, but a Carlos in transition from Rock to Jazz in a set that is mainly R&B inspired. The engineering was good for its time but is far from perfect yet also far from being anything near a bootleg. It is a large crowd concert with humanity jammed into the top of an open-air volcano, so the crowd noise is definitely there.

If you like “exciting” albums, this is one of those! Not Carlos’ best work but far from his worst as well. I give it Four, you might care to judge for yourself.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live | | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana The Swing Of Delight (1980)


Coming just one year after his previous Oneness album, this album is very much in the same musical vein, but it appears a bit less philosophy-induced, even if Carlos cedes his rights to Sri Chinmoy n three tracks, but no less excellent. But this album has a stellar cast of guest that most real jazz artistes would only dream of: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Ron Carter are present on over half the tracks while the rest of his group is present as well on the other tracks.

As opposed to Oneness this album is more about semi-lengthy tracks (and the album clocks in at a whopping 57 minutes which was remarkable for a vinyl) which are mostly instrumental.

While the album is a full-fledged jazz-rock fusion product of its time, I find that the usual flaws of many of those albums are not present on this one. While the music can hover between Weather Report, Spiro Gyra and Return To Forever on the one side and Mahavishnu Orchestra on the other side, it mostly retains that typical Santana sound. Right from the almost 7-min opening scorcher Swapan Tan, you just know that the jazz-rock will be steaming and streaming out of your speakers like a floodgates overcome by the Carlos tsunami.

There are of course some calmer moments (would it still be a Santana album without those?) such as Spartacus (a gradual sublime crescendo with Carter’s bass just being awesome), Phuler Matan (and its Arabic-Spanish intro) or the delightful Song For My Brother (which we imagine is Jorge) where Carlos shines like a solar eruption.

Jahma Kala is one of scorching track where the funk bass and the ever-inventive drumming (Lear in this case) just allow for the soloists to wail but not at the expense of the track’s cohesion and Gardenia is much in the same vein; Sticking out like a bit sore thumb (but more like it is out of place rather than bad) is La Llave Latino-anthem.

Golden hours is a very funky track with a flute soaring over the track before a sudden shift brings it around to more Voodoo-like influences and Carlos and the boys are just tearing our brains apart with a series of high flying solos reminiscent of RTF. The closing Sher Khan is a calm outro, not far from cool jazz.

Graced with a strange abstract artwork, which might be a bit misleading (especially compared to its jazz-rock predecessors), this album is another jewel in Carlos’ crown, and a very instrumental jazz-rock excellence example, this album is a real must-hear for JR/F fans.

Very close to 4,5 stars, but not flawless either, this often overlooked gem is only waiting for the progheads to unleash its charms.

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana The Swing Of Delight | | Leave a comment

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


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

Carlos Santana Oneness: Silver Dreams Golden Reality (1979)


Two things are hard to believe. One, that I’ve been a Santana fan for over 4 years and I’m just now learning about a solo album he released in late 1979 called Oneness: Silver Dreams Golden Reality, and two, that such a fantastic album came at the point in Santana’s career where he was beginning to place more emphasis on generic soul/pop and less on innovation concerning his latin rhythms and distinctive guitar solos. The timing of this release is bizarre to say the least.

It’s good though! The title song is the longest track here. Over 6 minutes long, and it’s a guitar jam. Not only that, but it strongly resembles that of “Flame Sky” from his Welcome album where he teamed with John McLaughlin. Unfortunately it doesn’t contain *nearly* the same level of intensity as that one did, but it’s still a highly memorable guitar jam. Worth hearing? Absolutely. He does a really good guitar trick around the 4 1/2 minute mark worth noting. “Life Is Just a Passing Parade” resembles another Welcome track with the funky intro before quickly turning into a soulful vocal melody-driven track with a wonderful keyboard and guitar jam at the end. This is actually another highlight because the funky rhythm and the instrumental variety is quite refreshing.

I’m not sure if “Song for Devadip” is considered a guitar jam or a guitar melody. This is because it basically consists of a melodic guitar solo looping for a few minutes. You can almost dance to it! “Silver Dreams and Golden Smiles” is a little on the cheesy side thanks to the lush vocal melody, and I believe I even detect an orchestration in the background. Eh, it’s alright but it’s almost hilarious the way it’s sung! It sounds like one of those traditional Christmas songs you’d be exposed to on Christmas Eve when all the radio stations switch over to 24 straight hours of Christmas music. Obviously it’s not a Christmas song, but the vocal melody is so corny you have no choice but to let out a little laugh. Like I said though, I can’t quite hate it.

“Transformation Day/Victory” begins with a really cool intro that I believe is a synthesizer before immediately switching into a boogie jam focusing around piano and Santana’s guitar work. Not quite as breathtaking as the intro but hey, it’s pretty good nonetheless. Actually on repeated listens, I notice the guitar and piano are actually alternating back and forth. It’s pretty unique and puts a radically new spin on the boogie rock formula. This song is really awesome after all. “Light Versus Darkness” is an onimous intro before the explosive arrival of “Jim Jeannie”, which consists of sparse drum fills and then an explosive guitar and synth jam not really any different from something the Mahavishnu Orchestra would have done from their Birds of Fire album. It’s highly enjoyable.

“Free as the Morning Sun” is another soulful ballad with richly performed latin piano work and delicate synths appearing in the background. This song is like a fitting farewell to the Santana of the 70’s as he walks into the sunset… and enters the dreaded pop years of the 80’s, haha. Well I like *some* of his 80’s work. “Winning” is an incredible pop song. Anyway, to continue the review, “Cry of the Wilderness” is a melodic guitar instrumental similar to “Song for Devalip”. A really good one too. It reminds me of… something I can’t quite figure out. “Guru’s Song” is a quiet, harmless and melodic guitar/piano instrumental that is *incredibly* beautiful if you ask me.

Overall, fans of Welcome and Borboletta absolutely must own this album. Why it slipped under the radar and has remained that way even to this very day doesn’t make sense to me. Oh well. You can fix that problem by listening to it.

April 15, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana Oneness: Silver Dreams Golden Reality | | Leave a comment

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 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