If there were ever a golden opportunity for Bill Laswell, doing his trademark remixing style on Carlos Santana's works was it. Here he chooses two of the guitarist's most spiritual works, one the enduring and profoundly influential Love, Devotion & Surrender featuring John McLaughlin, and the other a more obscure but no less regarded album called Illuminations, recorded with Alice Coltrane, among others. Laswell takes segments from each recording, alternates them, and attempts two things: to reconcile them to one another, and to create an entirely new work from the pair. By remixing the individual tunes, he creates a new vista to look at. His emphasis on bridging the gaps between Santana's more restrained style on Illuminations and his rollicking, screaming-into-the-heavens assault featured on Love, Devotion & Surrender presents an intriguing, but problematic, situation. Given the radically different emotions expressed on these records, it's impossible to equate the tenor of Santana's sound across the spectrum -- even by adding and deleting effects. For one, the material on Illuminations doesn't hold up as well. It was as much Coltrane's date as it was Santana's, and it wasn't one of her best periods. An example of this is on "Angel of Air," which opens the album. With overly lush string arrangements and crowded middle ranges where Jules Brossard's hopelessly hackneyed soprano saxophone playing crowds the guitar space, Santana's one moment of glorious fury in the entire 11 minutes is lost in the mix. Despite a rhythm section that included Dave Holland, Don Alias, and Jack DeJohnette, the tune fails to light. As the grooves give way to "A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane, with Larry Young's organ ushering in the melody before the guitars enter, the overly packed notion opens into spaciousness. Here, despite the familiarity Santana fans have with the material, in this context it comes off as something new, removed from its original space and placed in amore urgent body. And it's true: The material from this album is weighted with the burden of transcendence where the Illuminations tracks are merely fodder for added sound effects and deeper sounding rhythm tracks. They float where the Love, Devotion & Surrender material soars, punches a hole in the sky, and carries the listener into an entirely new hearing space. The lone exception from the Illuminations material in terms of its ability to transcend Alice Coltrane's string strangulation is "Angel of Sunlight," which Santana co-wrote with Tom Coster. Here, the entire band -- especially the rhythm section -- breaks loose of the lurid fetters and pushes Santana...hard. Listeners can hear the struggle as he tried to come up with ideas to engage the rhythm section. Laswell's attention to detail here is admirable. He pumps up Holland's bass in the mix and adds a shimmery tone to DeJohnette's cymbal work that gives the piece an urgency it doesn't possess on the original album. Unfortunately, he didn't mix Brossard's cheesy "I wish I was Coltrane" solo right out of the tune. Alas. Divine Light is a pleasant enough listen, one that provides enough depth and interesting pockets to keep one interested in the project. Musically, the majority of the album holds together. But the rough spots and black holes -- and there are more than a few -- mar the proceedings in such a way that is discouraging. Given that this is not Stevie Ray Vaughan but the king of spiritual six-string transcendence, it is not remiss to have expected more of Laswell -- especially given his wondrous treatments of Bob Marley and Miles Davis in the recent past. A near miss, but a miss nonetheless.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek