Classic Rock Review

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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

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