Whether you’re a fan of instrumental virtuosity, joyous collaborations or music that acts as a spiritual cleansing, you have a reason to rejoice with Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin’s “Invitation To Illumination – Live At Montreux 2011.” The two-hour concert reunites the two guitar masters who originally joined forces on 1973’s “Love Surrender Devotion.” At the urging of Montreux Jazz Festival’s founder Claude Nobs, they got together on July 1, 2011 for this historic moment in time and make the most of it. With members from both of their bands on hand there is a renewed urgency to the material as well as a display of jaw-dropping musical chops.
The fiery opening number, “The Life Divine,” finds a mind searching for calmness in a chaotic world. Here, Santana and McLaughlin trade licks while pacing around the stage as if it’s too small to contain them. Although they rarely look at each other, they perfectly take turns to add a flurry of notes as if they are extensions of one creative being. The lack of interaction here gets a bit frustrating but, thankfully, it’s the only time the guitarists act in this manner. Settled in after this number, they’re more outgoing with each other and the backing musicians. McLaughlin handles the majority of the playing, wearing a bright smile that intimates his pleasure at the sounds surrounding him while Santana calls upon the spirits of bluesmen, jazzmen and holymen to guide him as he punctuates the air with six-stringed bursts, directs and encourages the backing musicians, plays percussion and sings along with Ted Lindsay and Andy Vargas.
They play all but one song from their only album including covers of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and “Naima” and the duo’s original “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord.” For them the intention isn’t exclusively a sentimental journey, which consists of new material arranged for this event. An early medley features transitions that run from Coltrane to Bob Dylan to Led Zeppelin, Albert Ayler and Santana. Afterwards, McLaughlin revisits his time with Tony Williams on “Vuelta Abajo” and Vashkar.” Later, there are covers of Miles Davis and Pharaoh Sanders. On “Downstairs” and “Shake It Up and Go,” you gain a better understanding of how the blues became a springboard for the music that both venerated guitarists created.
It’s too easy to have wanted this grouping to stick together and tour after this show. The idea of watching this ensemble catch lightning in a bottle night after night may have been too much to ask. Minus that, we’re just fortunate these two got together in Montreaux and that the cameras were rolling and captured the ecstatic joy for our lasting pleasure.