Blu-ray Review: Santana & McLaughlin - Live At Montreux 2011: Invitation To Illumination

Two legendary guitarists reunite for their first full-length concert in decades.
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Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin have spent their respective careers on a spiritual and musical journey. The pair has blended world music and spirituality with jazz, Latin, rock, blues and even funk influences. The pair first collaborated on 1973's Love Devotion Surrender. The subsequent tour was the last time they had played a full-length concert together until 2011. That year, their old friend, the late Claude Nobs, invited the pair to play his famed Montreux Jazz Festival. Dubbed Invitation to Illumination, the concert was a magical event, pairing two virtuosos and musical soul mates and is the basis for the Blu-ray Santana & McLaughlin -- Live At Montreux 2011: Invitation To Illumination.

The band immediately launch into one of several Love Devotion Surrender tracks featured in the show, the driving "The Life Divine." Not wanting to be shown up by a master such as McLaughlin, Santana pushes the limit of his guitar with some blistering lead work of his own. The dual drumming of Cindy Blackman Santana and Dennis Chambers propel this McLaughlin-penned track. They follow up this impressive intro with a medley that covers John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan. On Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," Santana and McLaughlin play unison leads over a military march drum beat while Santana does the vocal lines on "Stairway To Heaven" on guitar with a smiling McLaughlin looking on. Not to be outdone, McLaughlin lets loose with an awe-inspiring solo of his own on the track.

McLaughlin takes the lead on the groove-heavy "Right Off," a Miles Davis number. Santana takes a backseat as McLaughlin relishes his chance to rock out before the song abruptly shifts gears, with Santana adding some moody leads of his own -- A brilliant performance by both guitarists. In an equally brilliant performance, McLaughlin and Blackman Santana lead a tribute to drumming great Tony Williams that is not to be missed. The two tracks, "Vuelta Abajo" and "Vashkar," feature frantic drumming from Blackman Santana and lightning-fast leads from McLaughlin.

Not everything is played at a blistering pace, however. "The Creator Has A Master Plan" has a laid back, Latin feel with soulful vocals from Tony Lindsay while John Coltrane's "Naima" has both guitarists on acoustic with Santana adding his signature leads over McLaughlin's intricate chords.

The band showcases their blues chops on "Downstairs," made famous by Lightnin' Hopkins and the set-closing "Shake It Up And Go." The former finds the pair taking some harmonized guitar leads and features some excellent piano playing from David K. Matthews while the latter features Nobs himself on harmonica and some incredible playing from McLaughlin that has Santana waving a towel in an "I'm not worthy" moment. Santana wasn't exaggerating either; McLaughlin's leads are nothing short of breathtaking.

The Blu-ray is presented in 1080i High Definition Widescreen 16x9 (1.78:1) and looks fantastic. Audio options include DTS HD Master Audio and LPCM Stereo. While the vocals occasionally are a bit buried in the mix, this is a minor quibble as much of the performance is instrumental anyhow. The sound is otherwise detailed and allows for both guitarists to be heard clearly.

Leave it to the Montreux Jazz Festival to reunite two giants who hadn't played a full concert together in decades. The performances on Santana & McLaughlin -- Live At Montreux 2011: Invitation To Illumination show that these two veterans have lost nothing to time. Quite the contrary -- time has given their playing an added maturity, making for a special performance.