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May 2007

Carlos Santana & Wayne Shorter
Live at the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival
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The seeds for the Carlos Santana & Wayne Shorter Band were likely planted when both appeared on This Is This, the 1986 swan song by Shorter’s band Weather Report. Yet the saxophonist left the group midway through that album’s recording sessions, leaving co-founding keyboardist Joe Zawinul little choice but to disband Weather Report after the release of perhaps the weakest effort in its 15-year catalog.

A two-CD and DVD package, Live at the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival fares about as well as This Is This, similarly because of a lack of chemistry rather than lack of talent. Guitarist Santana recruited a percussionist from the late-’80s version of his self-titled band, conga master Armando Peraza, plus original bandmember Jose Chepito Areas on timbales. Both burn through the Santana classic “Incident at Neshabur.” The other highlight of disc one is Shorter’s Weather Report staple, “Elegant People.” The saxophonist plays with fire over the funky cushion of Santana’s bassist, Alphonso Johnson, a former Weather Report member.

Maybe Shorter didn’t assert himself enough in the personnel process, since only Johnson and keyboardist Patrice Rushen were involved with his previous catalog. Santana keyboardist Chester Thompson hits a synthesized snooze button on “Goodness & Mercy,” and the guitarist can’t quite get in sync with former Santana drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler during the guitar-and-drums interplay on “Sanctuary” (something more evident on the DVD than CD).

Santana’s penchant for sustained single notes permeates disc two, from the introductory ballad “For Those Who Chant” to the predictable closer, “Europa.” Only the preceding encore, “Deeper, Dig Deeper,” hints at the breakneck fire that defines most live Santana shows, and only the shimmering “Fireball 2000” nears the rare, worldly air of Weather Report concerts.

Perhaps both Santana and Shorter felt they had something to prove in 1988. Santana’s first three albums had defined the previously non-existent genre of Latin rock, and subsequent strong releases helped to shape the sound of the 1970s. But Santana transitioned awkwardly into the 1980s, as the band worked harder during epic live shows to overcome weaker material. The 1988 boxed set, Viva Santana!, signaled the transition toward commercial material that earned the guitarist multiple Grammys for his 1999 album Supernatural.

Shorter was three years removed from the fusion juggernaut Weather Report, and simultaneously trying to chart his now-thriving solo career and walk out of Zawinul’s shadow. Playing a similar second fiddle to Santana didn’t help. Live at the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival is an admirable live performance that nonetheless pales in comparison to expectations set by the other bands of Santana and Shorter. It could’ve stayed in the vault.

Originally published in May 2007
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