The Album Divine


Photo by Ina McLaughlin

Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin
Love Devotion Surrender

It doesn’t take more than five seconds of listening before you realize you’re hearing two guitar masters at the top of their respective games. At the time, one was 30 years old; the other, just 25.

The opening track of Love Devotion Surrender, their one – and to date only – collaboration studio album is a cover, but that doesn’t become immediate until second number 40. Notes fly, instrumental speed is ever-present, and a hovering droning effect sets the mood and the album’s overall passion and intensity before underlying bass and organ notes enter the musical landscape. From here, legends John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana set about paying unabashed tribute to jazz giant John Coltrane.

The track is the first movement of Coltrane’s seminal “A Love Supreme,” but apart from ritualistic chanting of these three words in the background, this could easily be an original composition. In a way it is. Both musicians make the track their own completely – in less than eight minutes time.

Love Devotion Surrender (turning 45 in 2018) is a five-track, spiritually driven effort. When released, the album marked a distinct crossroads for both McLaughlin and Santana. By 1973, the former would start reevaluating the musical direction (and lineup) of his Mahavishnu Orchestra, which had already established jazz fusion as a viable genre in the world of rock. Santana, meanwhile, would eschew his Woodstockian longhair (literally) and near tribal sound for something more personally meaningful and fulfilling.

While the duo would meet and spend time together in California well before their album saw the light of day, an apparent cliché tied to the album’s genesis is in fact the 100 percent truth – it came to McLaughlin in a dream. At least that’s how he tells it.

“I’ve known Carlos since ’71. What a lovely man,” McLaughlin told me recently. “Strangely enough I was home back in 1972...and I had a dream. I dreamt that Carlos and I were playing in the same band. Really. I woke up with just a wonderful feeling. I called Clive Davis, who was the head of CBS, and I said, ‘Clive, I’ve had this amazing dream about me and Carlos playing together.’ He said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Bonded by a mutual love for Coltrane (hence another cover, “Naima,” being on the album) and other jazz stalwarts like saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, McLaughlin and Santana also received influence from Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy (pictured on the album’s back cover). Merging notions of enlightenment and karmic energy with pure psychedelia, the pair takes listeners on a far-out listening journey that proves equal parts transcendental and virtuosic.

“(Carlos) became a follower of my own meditation group. This is how serious he was in his search for enlightenment, whatever you want to call it,” McLaughlin said. “We looked for the answers to the great existential questions. We’re both old hippies.”

You can particularly hear these elements on tracks three and four – McLaughlin’s “The Life Devine” and the traditional “Let Us Go Into The House of the Lord,” respectively. “The Life Devine” is riddled with cascading notes, arpeggios, and ostinatos as the musicians’ chanting takes hold and blends seamlessly into the power of the music produced by all four hands. Both tracks combined last more than 25 minutes and include monumental instrumental tradeoffs between both icons until they reach blissful musical nirvana. “Meditation,” the final number, embodies the calm of this accomplishment.

Yet the album’s greatness doesn’t just stem from these two musicians alone; the contributions of the album’s backing players can’t be emphasized enough. The names alone should speak to the album’s one-of-a-kind stature: McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu bandmates Billy Cobham on drums and Jan Hammer on Hammond organ and percussion, organist Larry Young of the Tony Williams Lifetime (another former McLaughlin bandmate), plus Santana musicians Doug Rauch on bass and Michael Shrieve on drums.

“For Carlos and I, it was so easy,” McLaughlin explained. “He loves the same music and musicians that I do. It was easy. We were able to communicate really quickly without any confusion.”

A masterpiece of both rock and jazz fusion, Love Devotion Surrender begs your attention, especially since decades would pass before the album was revisited by both McLaughlin and Santana. In 2011, both legends would play its tracks together at Montreux in Switzerland, producing a live video and album of the concert as a result.

The hope is a sequel to the duo’s album will soon see the light of day. At least for now, McLaughlin is game to keeping the concert experience alive with his old friend in Germany in the future. Certainly, that’s what the fans want according to McLaughlin.

“I’m just waiting to hear back from Carlos,” he said. “We might be doing that later next year. I hope it comes off.”

***

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