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

This great performance from two legends of guitar is available on CD for the first time.
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When it comes to pushing musical boundaries, Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin are two guitarists at the top of the list. The pair has mixed world music with jazz, rock, Latin, blues and funk with a heavy dose of spirituality, all played with a stunning level of virtuosity. In 1973, they collaborated on an album, Love Devotion Surrender. The subsequent tour was the last time they had played a full-length concert together however until 2011. That year, Claude Nobs invited them to play the Montreux Jazz festival. While the two guitarists had played there many times on their own, it was their first appearance together at the famed festival. Previously available on Blu-ray, the performance is available on CD for the first time as Santana & McLaughlin -- Live At Montreux 2011 Invitation To Illumination.

The pair opens with "The Life Divine," a driving track from Love Devotion Surrender. Santana, seemingly sensing McLaughlin's well-known prowess as a guitarist, brings his A-game, pushing the limits of his guitar with some killer lead work. A medley follows that show's the duo's wide variety of influences, as it includes 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 and the pair shares guitar duties on an inspiring "Stairway To Heaven."

The two guitarists include a second melody, which features "Lotus Land Op 47, No. 1" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." Both songs take on a Spanish feel here, with each guitarist adding stunning acoustic leads. A very appreciative crowd gives a big cheer for this amazing performance. In equally brilliant performances, McLaughlin and Blackman Santana lead a fantastic tribute to drumming great Tony Williams. The two tracks, "Vuelta Abajo" and "Vashkar," feature frantic drumming from Blackman Santana and lightning-fast leads from McLaughlin.

Like all great musicians, Santana and McLaughlin know when to slow down the pace as well. "The Creator Has A Master Plan" has a laid back, Latin feel with soulful vocals from Tony Lindsay while both guitarists play acoustic on John Coltrane's "Naima" with Santana adding his signature leads over McLaughlin's intricate chords.

The band takes a bluesy turn on "Downstairs," made famous by Lightning 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 on harmonica and breathtaking lead guitar from McLaughlin. The songs make for a killer ending to an incredible performance.

It's a shame that it took so long for these musical giants to play a full concert together again but their smoldering set at Montreux more than makes up for it. This is a showcase for two masters who are clearly both still on top of their games and, more importantly, who still love what they do. That duo's love of performing comes out in the music and makes this performance a must own for fans of the pair.