Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin – Invitation to Illumination: Live at Montreux (2013)

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There’s a sense of homecoming, both in the musical selection and in the easy collaborative verve, about Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin’s Invitation to Illumination: Live at Montreux. If the concert film doesn’t have the groundbreaking feel of their earliest collaborations, well, it more than makes up for that with its sense of musical camaraderie.

Performing over a full night for the first time since touring in support of 1972’s Love Devotion Surrender, an album made in celebration of the music of John Coltrane, Santana and McLaughlin reanimate — though never quite duplicate — those heady days of horizon-less fusion with “The Life Divine,” a McLaughlin original from their original album together. Later, “Peace on Earth,” “A Love Supreme” and the lovely acoustic reading of “Naima” reference their continued appreciation for Trane.

“Peace on Earth” is actually part of a medley that includes nods to other innovators of their own generation, including Led Zeppelin (“Stairway to Heaven”) and Bob Dylan (“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”). Later, they breathe new life into Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator has a Master Plan,” with whom drummer Cindy Blackman Santana once played. “Yes,” McLaughlin says at one point, “we grew up with all of them.”

The most consistent thread running through Invitation to Illumination, due August 20, 2013 from Eagle Rock, remains that of Miles Davis — with whom McLaughlin collaborated over a period that included 1969’s In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, and 1971’s torrid Tribute to Jack Johnson. McLaughlin returns to “Right Off,” from the latter, giving it a funky update; and then the groups absolutely roars through “Black Satin.”

Meanwhile, Cindy Blackman Santana leads energetic, almost out-of-control runs through 1969’s “Vashkar” and 1970’s “Vuelta Abajo” — both from her hero Tony Williams’ Lifetime projects, which featured McLaughlin on guitar. The band on this 2011 Montreux date also includes former Davis sideman Benny Rietvald, as well as long-time McLaughlin bassist Etienne M’Bappe — who rose to early acclaim as a member of fellow Davis alum Joe Zawinul’s Syndicate band.

But Invitation to Illumination, in keeping with the rangy sensibility that’s always surrounded both McLaughlin and Santana, never stays in any one place for long.

That’s perhaps best appreciated within their rendition of the blues “Downstairs,” which finds this duo brilliantly morphing Lightnin’ Hopkins with Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk.” Special guest Dennis Chambers — the rhythmic heart of the P-Funk All Stars — adds a grease-popping funk attitude to things, as well. Montreux mastermind Claude Nobs, who passed away earlier this year, even joins in on the harp during a raucous closing encore of “Shake It Up and Go.”

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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