Carlos Santana & Wayne Shorter, Live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival 1988

Bill Milkowski

By Bill Milkowski

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

At the time of this concert, recorded on July 14, 1988, at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, both Carlos Santana and Wayne Shorter were in transition. In 1985, Shorter officially split from Weather Report, the groundbreaking fusion band he co-founded in 1970 with keyboardist and fellow Miles Davis alumnus Joe Zawinul, and began investigating other musical possibilities. Santana, meanwhile, was rebounding from overtly-slick, radio-friendly travesties like Zebop! (with its saccharine pop anthem, “Winning”) and Freedom, and in fact had scored an instrumental triumph the year before with Blues for Salvador, which not only marked a return to classic guitar hero form but also wound up winning him a Grammy Award.

Two legends convene for a one-off concert for the ages.

The set is fueled by ferocious, steamrolling momentum from the rhythm section and further energized by audacious, unbridled stretching from Shorter, Santana and Patrice Rushen. Shorter fans who bemoaned his diminished role in the latter years of Weather Report will be thrilled by the sheer amount of tenor sax blowing that he unleashes on these tracks. On the highly charged “Peraza,” Shorter bears down on his tenor with cathartic intensity, soaring into the Pharoah Sanders zone with high register squeals and bold overblowing. Carlos responds with some incendiary playing of his own, screaming over the top of the percolating rhythms with distortion-laced licks and the kind of passionate intensity he displayed during his toe-curling “Soul Sacrifice” solo at Woodstock some 18 years earlier. Rushen also stretches in a Herbie Hancock vein here while bassist (and former Weather Reporter) Alphonso Johnson digs into the Latin undercurrent with a serious tumbao groove.

The hard-driving “Incident at Neshabur” (from Santana's 1970 Abraxas album) is another vehicle for some serious stretching by the principal soloists. Carlos unleashes some searing, blues drenched licks on the balladic section and Wayne follows with a beautifully subdued tenor solo reminiscent of his poignant solo on Weather Report's “A Remark You Made,” topping it off with a wry quote from Frankie Valli's “Can't Take My Eyes off of You.”

Live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival 1988

Carlos Santana & Wayne Shorter

Elsewhere, this fusion superband turns in a faithful rendition of Shorter's Latin-tinged “Elegant People” (from Weather Report's Black Market) and nearly blows the roof off the Montreux Casino on Santana's explosive funk-rock throwdown “Blues for Salvador,” which has Carlos dipping into his wah-wah trickbag with wild abandon and also features some robust, ripping tenor work from Shorter. The 12/8 African-flavored “Mandela,” dedicated to freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, has Carlos wailing with a vengeance. And the collection closes on a tender note with Santana's romantic bolero “Europa.”

One big surprise here is their radical reworking of Wayne Shorter's “Sanctuary,” a tune which originally appeared on Miles Davis'pivotal Bitches Brew. Rather than playing it with the sense of openness and mystery that permeated Davis'rubato rendition, Carlos and company treat it as a hyper-charged shuffle reminiscent of Billy Cobham's “Stratus.” Shorter digs in with ferocious abandon on his solo and Santana follows with a scorching guitar-drums breakdown with Chancler that bridges the Hendrix-Trane divide.

While Santana and Shorter have not teamed up again since, this smoking two-disc set documents the obvious chemistry this dynamic duo shared on the bandstand all those years ago.