Jazzwise Article on “The Hymns Concert” at Montreux Jazz Festival

CARLOS SANTANA ASSEMBLES DREAM TEAM FOR MONTREUX PEACE SHOW(Roy Carr witnesses a spectacular one-off collaboration featuring Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Ravi Coltrane, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock)

Jazz musicians may well be notorious for their gallows humor, but, when Fraser Kennedy’s all-British production team once ran the Montreux Jazz Festival stage they soon became infamous for repeatedly hoaxing the performers. Their most outrageous jape being the ‘License To Perform.’ In the interests of (allegedly) upholding standards, musicians were informed that they had to submit to a backstage test to ascertain if they were really up to the job! A five dollar bill plus an ability to sing, dance, juggle, perform magic tricks or do a bit of stand-up, it claimed, was a definite bonus, but the real cruncher was being able to execute a note-perfect rendition of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.’ To this end, an authentic looking ‘performance license’ was mocked-up using a passport photograph of ‘successful’ applicant Wayne Shorter who was in on the joke from the very start. Others didn’t find it quite so amusing. One rotund trombonist took umbrage. ‘I’ve toured the world with Buddy Rich,’ he bleated loudly, ‘so, I’m not about to perform “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”’ Well you’ll be on the next plane home, then,’ was the production manager’s curt reply. There was absolutely no need for Wayne Shorter to re-apply for a license of any description when he again appeared at this the 38th Montreux Festival. Among fellow musicians Shorter is now regarded as close to being a living saint as one can get. Never more was this in evidence as when he participated in a truly momentous event conceived by Festival founder Claude Nobs and Carlos Santana. Two years in the planning and billed as ‘Hymns – An Evening Of Songs & Peace’, the stellar line-up had the (much improved) Santana Band driven by drummer Dennis Chambers, augmented by the likes of Chick Corea, Ravi Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Nile Rodgers, a group of vocalists that included the highly animated Angelique Kidjo and the more sedate Steve Winwood plus the sainted Wayne Shorter himself positioned centre stage. Commencing with the evocative ‘Afro Blue’, the two-part programme took in a selection of what, on paper seemed unlikely material, but which in reality proved truly inspirational for all participants – songs of Bob Marley (‘Redemption Song’, ‘Exodus’ etc,), Bob Dylan (‘Just Like A Woman’, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ etc ), Marvin Gaye (‘What’s Goin’ On’ etc), John Lennon (‘Give Peace A Chance’, ‘Imagine’), Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder were all given a highly unique make-over.

The second half embraced more devotional concepts including ‘The Light At The Edge Of The World’, ‘Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord’ and ‘A Love Supreme’. Throughout this extended performance, there was absolutely no suggestion of ego clashes, no grand stand exhibitions of virtuosity and absolutely no tantrums, just a show of mutual respect and genuine camaraderie, be it Santana and McLaughlin joyfully trading off against one another, Hancock and Corea vigorously tearing up their keyboards or Ravi Coltrane (visually, very much his father’s son) conducting himself with great dignity and unfazed in such fast company. And while Carlos Santana displayed the exuberance of someone who genuinely couldn’t believe his good fortune in assembling this illustrious cast, everyone appeared constantly gravitated towards Shorter who, notably in the Marley and Motown segments, dug deep into areas he probably hadn’t revisited in a very long time. Recent European appearances with Hancock, may have been met with mixed reactions, but, this night, Shorter was well focused in his playing, secure in his direction, never cerebral to the point of being incomprehensible and thoroughly enjoying the experience. And, further more, not once was The Great Man called upon to perform ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles!’

Article written by Roy Carr for Jazzwise

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