John McLaughlin - guitar; Carlos Santana - guitar; Larry Young - organ; Doug Rauch - bass; Armando Peraza - congas; Billy Cobham - drums
In 1973, guitarists John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana were both venturing down a similar path. Both had become disciples of the spiritual teacher, Sri Chimnoy and they were both actively pursuing a spiritual path within their music. Both musicians also held the music of John Coltrane in the highest regard and these common interests led them to collaborate on an album. That recording, "Love, Devotion, Surrender" was greeted with mixed reactions at the time, but there was no denying that it contained some of the most blistering guitar playing ever committed to tape. For Santana, the album was a serious departure from the Latin-flavored rock that his fans had embraced, but was clearly a signpost to where he was heading. McLaughlin was already one of the most respected jazz guitarists on the planet and had been directly involved in some of the most influential music of the past few years, having played with Miles Davis during his transition into electric music and with his own group, Mahavishnu Orchestra. The album was not for the faint of heart or the casual listener. The depth of concentration between the musicians was difficult to fathom at first, but repeated listening revealed that these musicians had indeed tapped into something very special. In retrospect, the jazz-rock fusion recorded for this album holds up rather well and the brief tour that occurred in support of the album contained some the most inspired performances of either guitarist's career.
Two of the most memorable concerts of that tour occurred at the intimate Berkeley Community Theater. This late show begins with the plaintive and delicate "Meditation," setting a tone of quite contemplation. This transitions into the first serious exploration, "The Life Divine." This complex composition is not unlike McLaughlin's work with Mahavishnu Orchestra, containing a heavy emphasis on rhythm with a freeform jazz quality running throughout. It vacillates between moodiness and an infectious funkiness. Although the guitar soloing is often relentless, it is never without expressiveness. The guitarists have left their egos behind here and the concentration level is staggering. While only half the length compared to the early show performance, it is nonetheless bubbling with creativity and leads into even more amazing performances.
Following "A Life Divine," they transition into their interpretation of John Coltrane's masterpiece, "A Love Supreme." Any attempt at performing this piece, which stands as one of Coltrane's ultimate compositions, was bound to be met with plenty of skepticism and controversy. However, these musicians create a beautiful and reverent exploration that manages to capture the energy of Coltrane's original work. Initial listening can be disorienting, as the guitar and electronic instrumentation is radically different from the original, but the musicians respect for the religious and spiritual qualities, as well as their passion for the composition itself are obvious. The groups improvisations are fantastic explorations and although individual musicians can easily be singled out for their incredible technique and precision, there is a beautiful balance here, with everyone contributing to this passionate performance. The free flowing improvisation never abandons the lyrical beauty of the composition.
Not included in the early show, "I'm Aware Of You" follows. This again features an unbelievable energy level, with plenty of sizzling guitar solos. Larry Young's organ playing is relentlessly creative and distinctive and the interplay between Santana and McLaughlin is nothing short of astounding. A close listen will reveal the group touching on several other Coltrane classics within the context of their improvisations. At one point they soar into Coltrane's "Afro Blue" and at another, Santana can be heard quoting Coltrane's phrasing on "My Favorite Things."
Although incomplete, this set once again displays these musicians playing with an intensity and passion that has rarely been achieved in front of an audience.