From the Vault: Carlos Santana/Wayne Shorter
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. Carlos 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.
In an interview I conducted with Carlos in February of '88, just six months before this historic encounter with Shorter at Montreux, the guitarist told me: "You gotta keep transcending. Every day you wake up is another opportunity to go beyond. That's why I let my band go. For the first time in my life I'm just roaming around now and I'm excited by the challenge of starting up something fresh. We're planning to get a band together this summer with Wayne Shorter. So it's a good time for me. I can afford to go out there and really learn from great musicians like Wayne."
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. He hit on a potent collaboration with guitarist and kindred spirit Santana. Their powerhouse band featured several of Carlos'current band members at the time, including bassist (and former Weather Reporter) Alphonso Johnson, keyboardist Chester Thompson, drummer Ndugu Chancler and Santana's longtime percussion battery of Armando Peraza on congas and Jose Chepito Areas on timbales. Patrice Rushen, who earlier that year had played on Shorter's Joy Ryder album, appears as second keyboardist.
I was actually at Santana and Shorter's Montreax Jazz Fest concert. I remember the show went on relatively late, after 10 PM. The audience, primarily French-Swiss and German-Swiss, as well as bohemian German backpackers with good hash, along with isolated groups of Italians, Brits and Americans, was psyched for this event and well aware of its historic context. The concert took place in the Casino, a large circular space with maybe 2,000 seats and a section off to the side of the stage where people crashed out on the floor, taking little naps before their favorite bands came out. (I think it was King Sunny Adé who finally came on at about 4 AM and played until sunrise).
The onstage vibe between Wayne and Carlos was interesting. Carlos was beaming the whole time, obviously overjoyed at the prospect of playing with one of his musical fathers, and he kind of deferred to Wayne as a revered Buddha figure on stage. Wayne maintained his signature cool on stage, blowing with passionate intensity but with a minimum of physical gesturing. And after a brilliant solo he would flash that Cheshire grin, as if to say, "You dig?"
There is no attempt whatsoever to cross over to the pop world here. This set is fueled by ferocious, steamrolling momentum from the rhythm section and further energized by audacious, unbridled stretching from Shorter, Santana and 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 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.” (Personal note: I was hanging out during the concert with a fellow American whom I had met earlier that day. He was the jazz writer for a prominent New York daily newspaper and had been sent over to cover the festival. At one point, I remember this clueless, credentialed charlatan saying, to my utter amazement, “This sax player is really good. What bands has he played in before?”)
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.