DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Santana & McLaughlin: Invitation to Illumination (Live at Montreux), Blu-ray (2011)

Two master guitarists, one concert: a collaboration truly inviting and illuminating.

Published on September 16, 2013

Santana & McLaughlin: Invitation to Illumination (Live at Montreux), Blu-ray (2011)

Santana & McLaughlin: Invitation to Illumination (Live at Montreux), Blu-ray (2011)

[TrackList follows] 
Studio: Eagle Vision Ent. EVB334579 [8/20/13]
Director: Luca Di Luigi
Video: 1.78:1 for 16×9, Color, 1080i HD
Audio: English DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: 13-page insert booklet
Length: 136 minutes
Rating: *****

TrackList: Echoes of Angels/Introductions; The Life Divine; Medley: Peace on Earth-A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall-Stairway to Heaven-Our Prayer-SOCC; Right Off; Vuelta Abajo; Vashkar; The Creator Has a Master Plan; Naima; Lotus Land Op. 47, No. 1; Downstairs; Venus/Upper Egypt; Let Us Go into the House of the Lord; Black Satin; Cindy Blackman-Santana Drum Solo; A Love Supreme; Shake It Up and Go.

(Carlos Santana – guitar, vocals; John McLaughlin – guitar, vocals; Cindy Blackman Santana, Dennis Chambers – drums; David K. Mathews – keys; Tommy Anthony – guitar, backing vocals; Raul Rekow – congas, percussion, backing vocals; Etienne M’Bappé, Benny Rietveld – bass; Tony Lindsay – vocals; Andy Vargas – backing vocals; Claude Nobs – harmonica (last track)

What do you get when two masters of jazz fusion get together, after nearly four decades, for a fully collaborative concert? You get an eclectic, wide-ranging evening which stretches from John Coltrane to Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan to Miles Davis, and much more. Invitation to Illumination: Live at Montreux 2011 celebrates the reunion of guitarists John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, who last performed together on stage back in 1973, when they toured to support their jazz-fusion duo album, Love Devotion Surrender. This one-time-only event was thankfully filmed, and is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, or on digital download formats. This review refers to the splendid Blu-ray version. At over two hours, there is much to appreciate. But make no mistake. This is not a showcase for Santana’s blues-rock, rock-pop or classic rock: don’t view this if you’re hoping to see “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” or anything from 1999’s Supernatural release.

Santana and McLaughlin perform all but one tune from Love Devotion Surrender (“Meditation” is missing). The two friends also deliver tributes to musicians who were influences or inspirations, including material associated with Miles Davis, Tony Williams, Coltrane and other artists. The supporting band is also a cooperative. McLaughlin brought along his long-time bassist Etienne M’Bappe, who was once a member of fellow Davis alum Joe Zawinul’s Syndicate band. Santana provided the rest: bassist Benny Rietveld (also a former Davis sideman), Raul Rekow (congas, percussion), and rhythm guitarist Tommy Anthony; keyboardist David K. Mathews (he’s also backed Etta James), drummer Cindy Blackman Santana (Carlos’ wife) and vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas. Helping bolster the rhythm section is second drummer, Dennis Chambers (besides Santana, his résumé includes stints with saxophonists Bob Berg and Bill Evans: Chambers was also with Davis and in McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra) and Victor Bailey (who worked with Zawinul in Weather Report and elsewhere). As a special treat, Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs introduces the concert and adds his harmonica during the concluding number.

As expected, most of the concert is one guitar jam after another, with keyboardist Mathews acting as a stimulant between the two, much as Larry Young did during the Love Devotion Surrender studio sessions and subsequent tour. Santana, McLaughlin and the assorted players have an easy camaraderie which is noticed early in the set list during a lengthy instrumental medley which contains quasi-religious “Peace on Earth” (a Coltrane tribute) and “Our Prayer,” alongside generous nods to Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The musical collage ends with “SOCC,” a salute to Sun Ra. Sparks fly during a fiery rendition of Miles Davis’ “Right Off,” which goes back to Davis’ 1970 jazz-funk LP Jack Johnson. Here, Mathews replicates the organ sound originally done by Herbie Hancock, while McLaughlin explores and improvises on the indelible riff he fashioned for that seminal track. That, in turn, is followed by the two-tune homage to drummer extraordinaire Tony Williams, “Vuelta Abajo” and “Vashkar.” Both cuts highlight contributions from McLaughlin, who was in the Tony Williams Lifetime, and Blackman Santana, who cites Williams as a major impact on her career. Attentive listeners might discern an occasional off-center moment, which McLaughlin alludes to when he addresses the crowd and mentions it had been decades since he performed Williams’ compositions. The pieces are also uncompromising and challenging to recreate.

Blackman Santana’s effect is also conspicuous on Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Sanders, as some may know, was part of Coltrane’s ensemble for a time: thus another Coltane connection which coils through this concert. What some may not know is that Blackman Santana spent nearly two years in Sanders’ band. She provides an appropriately rhythmic, Latin-jazz foundation to this translation, which has soulful vocals supplied by Tony Lindsay with backing from Andy Vargas. Santana explains the song “Is for you and I to make a conscious choice to make every day the best day of your life.” That spiritual involvement is more paramount during an acoustic guitar duet section, where Santana and McLaughlin go unplugged to offer discreet interpretations of Coltane’s “Naima” and “Lotus Land Op 47, No. 1,” based on Cyril Scott’s mystical classical composition. It is terrific to see and hear Santana as he interleaves his characteristic leads over McLaughlin’s layered chords. This segment’s air of poignancy and poise imparts a nice change of mood.

The second half echoes the first half, with bows to the past. There is an affirmation of the blues with a searing run through the Lightin’ Hopkins vehicle “Downstairs,” where the arrangement incorporates a bite of Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk.” More of Sanders’ personality is perceived during “Venus/Upper Egypt,” where the guitars evoke the memory of Sanders’ former band member, Sonny Sharrock (who, it must be noted, also did time with Davis). The devotional hymn “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord” also carries a Sanders vibe, since the rearrangement paraphrases the version Sanders did with Lonnie Liston Smith. The set list culminates with more Davis (“Black Satin”) and Coltrane “(A Love Supreme”). The encore is a final blues, “Shake It Up and Go,” with Nobs on harmonica, who is clearly delighted to share some time on stage with his two close friends and musical acquaintances. The Blu-ray is a pleasure to watch and hear. The visuals and sound have state-of-the-art quality. The multitude of instruments are mixed seamlessly, no small feat considering there are three guitars, two drummers, percussion, keyboards, and irregular vocals. The multiple camera operation looks superb on the widescreen format, and the audio options (DTS HD Master Audio and PCM Stereo) bring out the music’s overall majesty as well as nuanced details. Regrettably, the intermittent intros and outros by Santana and McLaughlin are buried, as if the sound person did not realize their microphones needed to be brought up. This is a minor nitpick, since this is a mostly instrumental show, but it also means viewers will raise volume to catch remarks and then get blasted when the music kicks in again.

—Doug Simpson




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