Back in 1973, Love Devotion Surrender was an unevenly received jazz fusion collaboration between Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, as he was calling himself at the time, and Carlos Santana. In a sense, McLaughlin was the senior partner of the pair. Three years before introducing Santana to his spiritual master, McLaughlin had become a disciple of the guru Sri Chinmoy, from whom he got the name Mahavishnu. Both his second solo album, My Goal’s Beyond (1973) as well as Love Devotion Surrender were dedicated to Chinmoy. Both included writings from Chinmoy on the covers, and, on the latter, he is seen on the back photo with his hands on the shoulders of his two white-suited disciples, McLaughlin and the new convert, Santana.
Musically, McLaughlin was also the leader of the partnership. Santana, of course, was the guitarist for the Latin-rock band named after him with several hit albums and a memorable appearance at Woodstock in his resume. At the time, McLaughlin was a pioneer of the sub-genre of jazz-rock fusion with stints with Miles Davis and the Tony Williams Lifetime behind him. He was the leader of The Mahavishnu Orchestra and was famous for his double-necked guitar—one six-string, one twelve.
While Love Devotion Surrender was dedicated to Chinmoy, it was also clearly a tribute to jazz giant John Coltrane. As such, Santana was venturing into McLaughlin’s playground even as many of the players on the five extended tracks drew both from The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Santana’s own group. The final result, produced by both McLaughlin and Santana, ended up pleasing the jazz fusion crowd more than Santana’s rock base, and even in the more high-brow world of jazz enthusiasts, the experiment met with mixed critical response.
Thirty-eight years later, Love Devotion Surrender was revisited live at Montreux, and that one-time only concert is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, or on digital formats as Invitation To Illumination – Live At Montreux 2011. Now, if anyone’s the senior partner, it’s Santana. In 2011, McLaughlin was only the most recent star to join Santana for one of his many Montreux performances. But, in the main, this was very much a collaborative effort with considerable input from McLaughlin, to put it mildly. After all, Santana and McLaughlin are two seasoned pros who both know how to light up the pyrotechnics, glide into interwoven melody lines, or restrain their fingers to give the other guy space to show off his chops.
To begin, all but one track from Love Devotion Surrender (excluding “Meditation”) were redone on that July 2011 night, including John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” as well as “The Life Divine,” the latter a McLaughlin reworking of “A Love Supreme.” “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord” was and is a Santana/McLaughlin arrangement of the gospel standard. One very nice section is when the two guitarists pick up their acoustic guitars to play Coltrane’s “Naima,” which was on Love Devotion Surrender, and the flamenco-flavored “Lotus Land Op 47, No. 1,” which wasn’t.
The rest of the performance, depending on your taste, can be described as the pair trying to offer something for everybody. As a result, much of the concert doesn’t have any real flow or continuity and sometimes just seems simply padded. True, when the performers stay close to the jazz/rock format, they soar the highest. For example, after McLaughlin described his admiration for Tony Williams, the ensemble performed two numbers from the Lifetime catalog, “Vuelta Abajo” and “Vashkar.” Going back to his work with Miles Davis, McLaughlin updates “Right Off” which he played on the 1971 Davis-penned soundtrack, A Tribute To Jack Johnson as well as “Black Satin” from the 1972 release, On The Corner.
But the nods to the duo’s inspirations strain from time to time, most notably the medley of “Peace On Earth”/”A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”/”Stairway To Heaven”/”Our Prayer”/”SOCC.” While it was nice to see the late Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, playing harmonica on the final John Lee Hooker boogie “Shake It Up And Go,” the jam wasn’t a convincing blues outing. Well, it had more grit than “Downstairs Blues,” as much a paint-by-numbers guitar blues performance as you’re likely to hear.
Without question, the backup band was first rate. Special kudos must go to Cindy Blackman Santana for drum work rivaling percussion masters like Tony Williams—to whom McLaughlin compares her—as well as two of the drummers who played on Love Devotion Surrender: Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra) and Michael Shrieve (Santana). Blackman Santana once played with Pharoah Sanders, and his “The Creator Has A Master Plan” is part of the set list.
Keyboardist David K. Mathews also added considerable texture and drama throughout the entire set. Gratefully, he plays traditional organ and piano and not the electronic synthesizers that came to dominate the jazz/rock genre in the ’70s. Other contributors included Dennis Chambers (drums), Tommy Anthony (guitar and vocals), Raul Rekow (percussion), Etienne M’Bappé (bass), Benny Rietveld (bass), and occasional vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas.
As we’ve come to expect from all the Montreux concerts issued from Eagle Rock Entertainment, both the visuals and sound are captured in state-of-the-art quality. Mostly. In this case, while the instruments are mixed perfectly, it’s often hard to hear the introductions and comments from McLaughlin or Santana. Many of them I flat missed.
In the end, Invitation To Illumination is a disc for those into the jazz/rock fusion era or those who enjoy watching guitar virtuosos cutting loose with a variety of material. There are powerful solos and all the players clearly feel inspired enough to jell together for perhaps 80% of the set. However, strange to say, at two hours and a quarter, the program just goes on too long. Perhaps I just don’t have enough devotion to surrender to all this love.