A previous post discussed the work of Alice Coltrane, 2nd wife to jazz legend John Coltrane, as an example of a specific strain of jazz in the late sixties/ early seventies that has been referred to as Spiritual Jazz. The music was often marked by the inclusion of some approximation of ethnic music (usually Indian and/or African) as well as aspects on non Judaeo Christian spirituality.
The root of the Spiritual Jazz genre could be traced back to John Coltrane and in particular, his landmark album, A Love Supreme. The mantle of John Coltrane’s work was subsequently taken up by others such as Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. The guitarists who most prominently heard the call were John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana and in particular with their collaborative album, Love Devotion Surrender.
Santana’s music was transitioning from rock to fusion. and had been a fan of McLaughlin. McLaughlin subsequently introduced Santana to Sri Chinmoy, his Indian spiritual master who taught meditation in the West after moving to New York City in 1964. The album was a spiritual tribute to Sri Chinmoy and a musical one to John Coltrane.
Despite the trappings of spiritual inner peace (what with the the pictures and essay by Sri Chinmoy), the music (aside from the two short acoustic pieces) is far from meditative. This here is some serious guitar shredding in the name of the Lord (hallelujah!!!). Santana is panned to the left channel and McLaughlin to the right and to hear these guitar masters go at it is a thing of beauty. Their styles are different yet complementary in what are essentially extended guitar jams.
The album opened up with two Coltrane tunes. The first, titled A Love Supreme, is actually the the Coltrane composition “Acknowledgement” from Coltrane’s 1964 landmark album A Love Supreme (shout out to the music wonks in the house!). Featuring the same bass motif line as the Coltrane version, the melody is played by the great Larry Young on organ and is followed by some fiery exchanges between McLaughlin and Santana (again, McLaughlin on the right, Santana on the left), a musical arrangement device that McLaughlin had used with his band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Unfortunately, as on the original Coltrane version, they end with a chant of “a love supreme”. I want to be respectful of an artist’s spiritual beliefs but from a musical perspective, I find it f**king annoying.
Santana & McLaughlin – Love Devotion Surrender – A Love Supreme
The record continues with the classic Coltrane ballad Naima. Played as a quite acoustic guitar duet, it hearkens back to an earlier McLaughlin record, My Goals Beyond, which featured an album side of acoustic guitar duets (with McLaughlin overdubbing himself). It makes you wish the two of them had recorded more material like this.
Santana & McLaughlin – Love Devotion Surrender – Naima
The record highlight (IMHO) is their version based of the traditional gospel song “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord”. The song had been previously recorded by Coltrane collaborator Pharoah Sanders and their take on it is heavily based on the Sanders’ version. After a slow intro, the song goes into a two chord latin groove vamp that would not be out of place on any number of Santana songs before returning to the slow intro section.
Santana & McLaughlin – Love Devotion Surrender – Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord
The secret weapon of the record is the organist Larry Young, who provides the color and harmonic link between McLaughlin and Santana. Young had worked previously with McLaughlin, first in the landmark fusion band, Tony Williams’ Lifetime, and then on the greatly unappreciated John McLaughlin record, Devotion (definitely the subject of a future post).