John McLaughlin and Santana join forces to unleash a torrent of inner peace, and a little jazz fusion
Rock musicians seeking spiritual guidance from Gurus was a fairly common practise in the 1960’s and early ‘70s. The Beatles, while not solely responsible, are perhaps the most well known example of popularising the search for enlightenment by Western individuals from other cultures with which they themselves had little if anything in common.
But that didn’t stop John McLaughlin and Santana from becoming devotees of Sri Chinmoy, and recording an album together, as an expression of their commitment and dedication to their new found beliefs. On the front of the LP we have a photo of the two guitarists walking together in friendship, no doubt off to the temple, but turn the cover over, and we see them standing on either side of their grinning guru, who appears happy in the knowledge that rather than a couple of suburban nobodies, his followers are actually famous. Bonus!
Coming along for the journey were members of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Santana, making for a pretty impressive cast: Billy Cobham (drums); Don Alias (drums); Jan Hammer (drums, organ); Mike Shrieve (drums); Doug Rauch (bass); Armando Peraza (congas), and last but not least Larry Young (organ).
We begin with an interpretation of John Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement”, here titled “A Love Supreme”, from the saxophonist’s 1964 masterpiece of the same name. Here McLaughlin and Santana battle it out like a couple of vegetarian warriors, exchanging notes at a furious pace. The whole thing is extremely intense, to the extent that one can merely wonder as to what Coltrane himself might have thought of it. “Naima” is also a composition by Coltrane, and a far more relaxing experience than the previous number. McLaughlin’s acoustic guitar is exquisite, where he gives it a strong Spanish flavour.
By the time the listener gets to the third track, it’s becoming suspiciously obvious that McLaughlin and Santana are not only followers of Sri Chinmoy, but the church of John Coltrane as well. “The Life Divine” has Santana playing some explosive licks, in the vein of his first three albums, as if attempting to reach nirvana via a lot of intense electric soloing. But of course we can’t get there without McLaughlin, who also contributes some blistering guitar work of his own. The 16 minute “Let Us Go Into The House of The Lord” is another one for the serious guitar fanatic, with enough chord progressions to keep Guitar Magazine busy for weeks. Billy Cobham is superb, as is the rest of the group, much to the detriment of gyms the world over. One’s thing’s for sure, you don’t get to be as good as these musicians by sitting on your arse all day writing music reviews.
On the last song, “Meditation”, McLaughlin plays piano, an instrument he is not necessarily associated with, while Santana plays acoustic, something which he isn’t exactly known for either. It’s a peaceful tune, and perhaps required after the strength and power of “House Of The Lord”.
Putting all religious aspects to one side, Love Devotion Surrender can still be enjoyed for its musical qualities, and not for any of the beliefs of our two main protagonists. Whether it will make the listener jump in their car and drive off to the nearest Sri Chinmoy holy residence remains to be seen, while those who would have bought the album back in the day, were probably too stoned to get off the couch much less leave the house anyway.
Love Devotion Surrender has much to recommend it, especially fans of Santana and Mahavishnu. The CD reissue has been remixed and comes with a couple of bonus tracks, “A Love Supreme” (take 2) and “Naima” (take 4). That it is now a more than forty year old album, means that you should be able to pick it up for next to nix. How’s that for transcendence.