A few years after forming in San Francisco, an appearance at
Woodstock propelled Santana into the spotlight, and their first
three albums were tremendously popular. The group was the first to
intelligently combine Latin American music with rock 'n' roll (no,
"La Bamba" doesn't count), and Carlos Santana, the band's namesake,
is a terrific lead guitarist - heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix but with his own distinctive
sound and approach, tightly focused and cleanly articulated. After
a brief commercial and artistic peak, the band continued to pump
out records through the Seventies and early Eighties. Nowadays,
Carlos Santana is a solo artist who puts out occasional
low-key albums and works on various political causes. (DBW)
There's a very slick official Santana
web site with the usual goodies but no detectable fan input.
Lineup: Carlos Santana, guitar, vocals; Mike
Carrabello, percussion; Dave Brown, bass; José
Chepito Areas, percussion; Mike Shrieve, drums; Gregg
Rolie, keyboards, vocals. Neil Schon, guitar, added
1969. Brown replaced by Doug Rauch (bass), James Mingo Lewis (congas, bongos) added, 1972. Rolie and Schon left, 1973.
Tom Coster (keyboards) joined 1974.
I don't know when the others left,
but by 1977 the only original member besides Santana was Areas, who left shortly thereafter.
Moonflower lineup: Greg Walker, vocals; Tom Coster, keyboards;
Tom Coster, Jr., synth; Pablo Tellez, David Margen, bass; Graham Lear,
drums; Raul Rekow, Pete Escovedo, percussion. Coster replaced by Greg Rhyne (keyboards), Chris Solberg (guitar) added, about 1978. Walker replaced by Alexander Ligertwood (vocals), 1979.
Early 80's lineup: Alexander J. Ligertwood, lead vocals; Richard Baker, keyboards;
Margen; Lear; Orestes Vilato, Raul Rekow and Armando Peraza, percussion.
Live At The Fillmore '68 (rec. 1968, rel. 1997)
Two-CD set. (DBW)
The band was already pointed in the right direction, but wasn't quite
ready for prime time: besides the Woodstock showstopper "Soul Sacrifice"
and the catchy hit single "Evil Ways," the tunes are just excuses for
jamming, and nobody's much of a soloist besides Santana. Even he isn't
as formidable as he later became; he's an innocent bystander ("Savor")
as often as he's brilliant ("Jingo"). Almost all the tunes are credited
to the entire band, in true San Francisco communal style. Mostly
instrumental, and you'll be thankful for that once you've heard Rollie
bellow his way through "Persuasion." The production sounds rudimentary
and rushed, which has disastrous results for the percussion: it mostly
sounds like banging on cardboard boxes or tin cans. (DBW)
This record shows the band's strengths and weaknesses: they really
swing on Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va," Carlos's playing soars
throughout, particularly on "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" and
the jazz-fusion piece "Incident At Neshabur" with Alberto
Gianquinto on piano. However, featuring a sensitive, technically
skilled pianist on one track highlights one of Santana's
weaknesses: their keyboardist, Gregg Rolie, who contributes a
couple of dull, rudimentary tunes ("Mother's Daughter," the
overblown "Hope You're Feeling Better"), and takes up way more solo
space than his modest talents merit. (And I'm not saying that
because he later went on to found Journey.) Also in the minus
column: the group had no good singer or songwriter, and often the
compositions are minimal, just solo vehicles ("Se Acabó,"
"Samba Para Tí," "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts") - as time
went by these problems became more limiting. But another point in
the band's favor is that the jams don't go on forever the way so
many other San Francisco records did... most of them are quite
punchy and to the point, and when the band sinks its teeth into a
groove it doesn't let go. (DBW)
Santana III (1971)
- Santana was on a huge roll at this point. They avoided the pretentious,
spacey jams of other records and replaced them with high-energy
five-minute wonders, of which the three vocal tracks are the best known:
the frenetic Spencer Davis-like "Everybody's Everything," a big-deal hit
powered by the Tower of Power horn section; the smooth "No One To Depend On," a weaker Top 40 hit
employing the band's trademark Latin-meets-electric-blues sound; and the
jangly get-happy "Everything's Coming Our Way." The two full-blown salsa
numbers are Tito Puente's "Para Los Rumberos," and "Guajira," with
guests Rico Reyes (vocal) and Mario Ochoa (piano); and everywhere
there's tons of roaring Latin percussion.
Santana's guitar technique is fantastic here, and adding a second
guitarist (Neil Schon, later the co-founder of Journey) seems to help (I'm told that's his blistering wah-wah pedal work on "Everybody's Everything").
Abraxas was surely Santana's peak, but this is an even more
accessible outing that you won't regret tracking down. Note: "Santana
III" appears nowhere on the album cover, and is just the common name
for one of two albums named Santana - the other one is the
group's 1969 debut. (JA)
- Another strong success - not a single track is a throwaway - but "Everybody's Everything" is a bit obvious and I
could've done without Schon's solos. Indeed, this is easier to get into than Abraxas, but it doesn't have as
much depth, either. (DBW)
Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! (Santana & Miles: 1972)
In a volcano crater, no less. In all the mythologizing about the Tumultuous Sixties, it's been largely forgotten that LSD consumption
resulted in a lot more unlistenable noise than innovative brilliance, and the proof is right here on this disc. The
band lurches from one disorganized jam to another, occasionally finding a recognizable tune (including one hit by each bandleader,
"Evil Ways" and "Them Changes") but more often spewing acid-rock clichés.
The most extreme example is the 25-minute "piece" that consumes the entire second side of the LP, "Free Form Funkafide Filth," which
relies so heavily on lame-brained pentatonic riffs, distorted wah-wah and indulgent
soloing that it's hard to sit through. Santana is brilliant enough to rise above all this sludge, but he doesn't do it
here - his playing is so far below his usual level I'm shocked he agreed to the record's release.
If you're still reading, there are apparently two drummers, Miles and Family Stone alumnus Gregg Errico,
two guitarists (Santana and Schon) and a bass player, plus a horn section - the tenor player amusingly incorporates
a number of Coltrane mannerisms into his solos, but without any of the musical invention. (DBW)
- Santana's first genuinely experimental album. The only vocals are
on "Just In Time To See The Sun," the gorgeous six-minute rewrite of
Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova tune "Stone Flower," and the ambitious
suite "All The Love Of The Universe." So there aren't any marketable pop
songs - indeed, Santana didn't score another hit until 1977.
But it's still consistently enjoyable, shifting effectively between the usual acid rock jamming and some jazzier, more ethereal pieces like the salsa-flavored "La Fuente Del Ritmo"; it helps that they switch off bass players, with Doug Rauch on electric and Tom Rutley on acoustic.
They get it all to work on the nine-minute "Every Step Of The Way," which starts out incoherently but builds to an exciting orchestrated fade.
There's also some atonal, electronic effect-laden jazz-fusion a la Weather Report (the Latin
percussion showcase "Future Primitive"). So some of the record is
shapeless, but the cumulative effect is relaxing, and even moving in the
meditative way that Carlos clearly intended. Definitely not a record for
beginners, but an interesting effort.
Co-produced by Santana and Shrieve; the band members contributed
more-or-less equally to the songwriting. (JA)
- Pleasant but too low key, except for the supremely funky "Look Up
(To See What's Coming Down)." The rambling suites are longwinded, and
the trippy percussion spotlights lack energy. But "Stone Flower" and
"Fuente Del Ritmo" are well-done, and Carlos gets some fine playing in.
This hit the Top 10 as well. (DBW)
Love Devotion Surrender (Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: 1973)
John McLaughlin is an extraordinarily nimble jazz guitarist, but you
won't get much appreciation for him out of this ramshackle collection of
Santana-esque jams. Most of the tunes are based on Coltrane ("A Love
Supreme"), which means that the only vocal accompaniment consists of a
few aggravatingly repetitive chants ("The Love Divine").
And most of the tunes run on endlessly and unimaginatively, so after a
while it's just plain boring. When they're concise and acoustic
(Coltrane's "Naima"; McLaughlin's "Meditation"), they're also diffuse
and ethereal. And when they're not, it's just one blistering sheet of
virtually random guitar arpeggios after another.
For devotees only. The players here include a pack of percussionists (Jan Hammer, Mike Shrieve, etc.) and organist Khalid
Yasin (the former Larry Young). (JA)
Inspired by Sri Chinmoy, then guru to Santana, McLaughlin, Stanley
Clarke and who knows who else. (DBW)
A relative flop, this still managed to reach #25 and go gold.
Halfway between the great rock records of the early 70's and the crappy AM records of the late 70's.
There are still a few driving tracks recalling the Abraxas period ("Give And Take"), while a mellow Latin jazz flavor pervades tunes
like the instrumental "Canto De Los Flores" (featuring an uncredited flautist) and the AM fluff "Life Is Anew."
The middling songwriting comes from a variety of sources: band members (new vocalist Leon Patillo's "Mirage"), guests, and outsiders like
Jerry Martini ("One With The Sun," written with Earlyrin Martini, is more hippy-dippy
soft-rock drivel, but it does build to a blistering Carlos-led climax).
New keyboardist Tom Coster relies on Max Middleton's patented "swirling stereo" Rhodes sound when he's not playing organ.
There is an unusually high percentage of guest artists: the opening and closing tracks don't feature any band members at all ("Spring
Manifestations" is Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, the title track is played solely by Airto); bassist Stanley Clarke
appears on four tunes, twice accompanied by Leon "Ndugu" Chancler; Jules Broussard plays sax on four or five, and Carlos sits out two
band numbers, only playing on eight of the twelve tracks. But when he's on, he makes it all worthwhile (his own "Practice What You Preach,"
backed by gospelly organ).
The first Santana record not to reach gold status.
Illuminations (Carlos Santana and Alice Coltrane: 1974)
A double live record, recorded in Japan in 1973. A predictable
assortment of hits, focusing on the second and third records. (DBW)
Santana seems on cruise control here, letting keyboard player Tom Coster
co-write almost everything (usually with drummer Ndugu Leon Chancler).
Unfortunately, Coster sounds like he'd listened to Wired over and over again until the
needle wore out; he filches every last gimmick out of Jan Hammer's bag
of Arp and Moog synth tricks, with exactly the same jazz and funk
Meanwhile, Greg Walker adds insincere R & B smarmster vocals to mediocre
tunes like the repetitive fusion-salsa hybrid "Dance Sister Dance" and
bassist David Brown's glitzy, goofy, generic funk-disco epic "Let It
With both Chancler and percussionist Armando Peraza in the band, they
could have done much better; but as it is, the high points here are
merely ordinary. Peraza gets in a good Cuban groove tune that opens with
a fine flamenco guitar solo by Carlos ("Gitano"), the speedy funk-fusion
number "Let Me" is almost memorable, and Santana's few spotlights are as
melodic as always ("Europa").
Not much to hang your hat on, but if you like Santana's late 70's sound, you won't regret owning the record. (JA)
Top Ten and gold again. (DBW)
This double album of mixed live and studio tracks might be all the
Santana you need. For a change, Carlos takes up most of the solo space
rather than spotlighting less talented musicians, and as usual his
playing is brilliant. There are high-voltage live takes on many of the
group's best-known hits ("Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen," "Soul
Sacrifice," "Toussaint L'Overture") and rather than split them up into
live and studio sides, the studio work is interspersed, which keeps
things from boiling over. The studio tracks are mostly fusion in Jeff Beck's then-style, plus Latin
percussion: keyboard player and co-producer Tom Coster again sounds just like
Jan Hammer, and Santana often sounds surprisingly like Beck ("Bahia,"
"Go Within"). It's not exactly groundbreaking, but it sure is fun. Then
there's the amusing cover of the Zombies'
"She's Not There" redone in classic Santana style, which became their
first Top 40 single in years. Some of the live tunes are just jamming
vehicles ("Jugando"), Coster occasionally keeps playing when he's run
out of ideas, and the rest of the band doesn't particularly shine, but
Carlos Santana's at his best here, which should be good enough for
Inner Secrets (1978)
With Coster out of the band, Santana comes up short on ideas and
retreats to covers and should-have-been covers, dashing among late-70's
pop music genres like disco, arena rock, and fusion as if he's desperate
to catch whatever train is leaving the station and doesn't care where it
might be going.
There's a rote resurrection of "Dealer" that obliterates Traffic's engaging mania; an equally
lifeless repetition of Blind Faith's arrangement of Buddy Holly's "Well All Right"; the smarmy "Stormy";
and a couple of generic tunes manufactured by producers Dennis Lambert
and Brian Potter - a down-tempo funk ballad overflowing with false
emotion ("The Facts Of Love"), and a thumping, derivative seven-minute
disco number ("One Chain (Don't Make No Prison)").
Most of the original material is better, especially when Walker shuts up
and lets Carlos play ("Life Is A Lady/Holiday"; "Wham!").
But only the band is to blame for their thudding arena-metal rocker
"Open Invitation," and throughout there's so little of Santana's
patented guitar wizardry that even fans will barely recognize the band
they're listening to. (JA)
Oneness, Silver Dreams - Golden Reality (Carlos Santana: 1979)
At this point Santana dumped Greg Walker and brought in vocalist
Alexander Ligertwood, a macho Bobby Tench
imitator who's set off by a shriller tenor and an even blander style.
Thanks either to him or producer Keith Olsen, the band suddenly focused
itself on extraordinarily crafted, but faceless arena rock: screeching
guitars, feel-good synths, slick harmonies, a politely pounding rhythm
section. "You Know That I Love You" sounds practically like Boston or
(ack) Journey; "All I Ever Wanted" wastes a brilliantly snarling guitar
lick on a hyperkinetic bluster-rock tune. There are still jazz-fusion
("Aqua Marine"), disco ("Stand Up") and Latin elements like salsa
("Summer Lady"), but they're deliberate flavorings of the kind you'd
hear on a contemporary Rod Stewart album.
Oddly, Carlos seems inspired by the change, and in places he's
phenomenal, rising way above the usual AOR guitar-twiddling formula.
I'm not sure what to make of this - if you turn your brain off you might find it good background music, but it's still a total sell-out.
Everything's an original this time, although Carlos wasn't involved in
writing a couple of tunes. (JA)
Swing Of Delight (Devadip Carlos Santana: 1980)
An ambitious jazz fusion album, with backing provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter,
Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Harvey Mason, plus (on several tunes) the Santana
percussion section. Each gets some time in the spotlight (Carter's playing is lovely on "Gardenia"), though most of the solo space is Santana's.
Ligertwood adds vocals to "La Llave"; otherwise everything's instrumental.
The song selection's not up to the level of the soloists: three toothless songs are credited to guru Sri Chinmoy
("Swapan Tari," where Carlos fiddles with his guitar trying to find a substantive lick), and
Shorter's "Shere Khan, The Tiger" is no more substantial.
The backing musicians sound much more comfortable and assured on the one straight jazz tune ("Jharna Kala"),
and the other highlights are straight fusion recalling Wired ("Song For My Brother," with fine multi-tracked guitar work).
There are fine touches throughout ("Phuler Matan"), Carlos sounds great, and there are none of the tacky pop moments you find on all Satana band albums
post-1972 or so.
Again Carlos was deserted by almost his entire band, but
smooth-voiced Alexander Ligertwood propelled the group back into
the Top 10 by crooning the corny pop hit "Winning" (by Russ Ballard). (DBW)
Trust me on this one. After the success of Zebop!, Santana
decided to push the AM hit formula to the extreme: "The Nile" and the
single "Hold On" are embarrassing attempts at light soul; "Nowhere To
Run" (another Russ Ballard effort) is a listless soft rocker; "Night
Hunting Time" is an obvious shot at AOR; "Nueva York" is a
semi-successful take on the Santana sound of old. That's side one; the
whole formula repeats on side two, including a cover of the 1969 Jr. Walker hit
"What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)." Basically, you'll only believe
you're listening to a Santana record when Carlos beams in for a brief,
frequently exciting solo - otherwise, it's unadulterated MOR sludge.
Several producers including Bill Szymczyk, John Ryan, Santana himself,
and Gregg Rolie, who appears on a couple of tracks. Otherwise, the band
is mostly held over from the previous record: Ligertwood, Lear, Peraza,
Vilato, etc. (DBW)
They did have another major hit here with "Hold On," but then dropped
off the charts again. (JA)
Havana Moon (Carlos Santana: 1983)
A retro rock album with the Fabulous Thunderbirds on most of the tracks,
and it's just as bad as you'd think. Carlos unwisely lets Jimmie Vaughan
and especially harmonica player/singer Kim Wilson take solo after
solo... Carlos, I can hear them on their own albums. The tunes
include Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love," the 1960 hit "Watch Your Step,"
and the title track (by Chuck Berry), all of which have that overobvious
Thunderbirds sound we all know and despise. Then for some reason, Willie
Nelson was summoned to add vocals to "They All Went To Mexico." The only
good news is a rare vocal appearance by Booker T.
Jones on his "One With You," and an extended instrumental, "Tales Of
Kilimanjaro," that's basically a Santana outtake. Oh, and the Mexican
standard "Vereda Tropical" is okay, rendered in traditional style, but
Carlos isn't on the track at all. Is this supposed to be a solo record
or a guest DJ spot? (DBW)
Beyond Appearances (1985)
Greg Walker was back splitting vocal duties with Ligertwood, the team of Margen & Lear was gone, Alfonso Johnson took over
on bass, and multi-instrumentalist Chester C. Thompson came on board.
Produced by Val Garay, who brought in some session musicians like Mitchell Froom.
Most of the tunes are by band members, though there's a cover of Curtis Mayfield's
"I'm The One Who Loves You." Review coming soon. (DBW)
This time there's a pretty consistent bass-heavy funk-rock sound, looser and less slick than the early 80's albums. As
a result, the percussion section gets more room to play, and they sound great. The problem is, the songs - all written by
the band - don't have the great driving riffs that sloppy funk-rock needs: all the hooks are bland and unmemorable, on
everything from roadhouse blues ("Veracruz," with guest vocals from Junior Wells and Buddy Guy) to ballads ("She Can't Let
Go") to the would-be artists' manifesto "Songs Of Freedom."
I'm tempted to lay much of the blame on new lead singer Buddy Miles, since his 1972 pairing
with Santana had the same problems, only to a greater degree.
As usual for this period, Carlos is the featured player on a couple of instrumentals (the melodic "Love
Is You"), but on most of the tracks just sits around waiting for his solo, which aren't even that great ("Victim Of Circumstance").
1987 was the Year of the Nelson Mandela Tribute, and Santana weighed in with the instrumental "Mandela."
Chester Thompson and Coster are both on keyboards, with help from Rolie and somebody named Sterling; the rhythm section remained more or less intact.
Jeffrey Cohen co-wrote the three songs he produced with Carlos,
while the bulk of the album was produced by Carlos with Thompson and Sterling.
Blues For Salvador (Carlos Santana: 1988)
This sounds like a collection of outtakes, which is
more or less confirmed by the liner notes. Almost everything is
instrumental, which is fine with me, but they're also hit-or-miss
unstructured jams: "Now That You Know" is a live improvisation that
occasionally connects, but squanders most of its nine minutes of album
real estate; "Trane" features Tony Williams on
drums but doesn't really go anywhere; the title track is a lengthy
guitar solo with just a synth accompanying - it might have worked better
if it had been fleshed out. Though this is basically a fans-only
release, there are some nice tunes here: "Bailando/Aquatic Park"
is squarely in the mellow fusion Santana tradition; an alternate take of "Deeper, Dig
Deeper" is a guitar improvisation over drum machine/spare synth backing
that sounds eerily like something you'd hear on a Prince bootleg. The band includes Chester
Thompson on keyboards, Buddy Miles on
drums, and other associates including the Santana percussion section.
Spirits Dancing In The Flesh (1990)
New recruits include Benny Rietveld on bass and Walfredo Reyes on percussion. Lots of guests
including Stephen King(!), Jim Gilstrap and Oren Waters. Vernon Reid is
listed as a co-producer, but apparently doesn't perform. (DBW)
A large group featuring a full horn section, and Carlos' brother Jorge
"Second Banana" Santana on acoustic guitar. Includes a sample of John Coltrane's "Mars." (DBW)
Sacred Fire: Santana Live In South America (1993)
Look for a review soon. (DBW)
A collaboration featuring Carlos, his guitar-wielding brother Jorge and
their guitar-wielding nephew, Carlos Hernández. Though the
other two certainly can play (and each gets a solo feature to prove it),
Carlos Santana is already adept at so many styles himself that it
amounts to an embarrassment of riches: on the three-way showdowns ("The
Trip," "La Danza") you might as well be listening to him multitracked.
There are two saving graces: there's so much guitar playing there's no
time for the sappy pop vocal numbers that clutter up most Santana
records (all the tunes are instrumentals), and the compositions are
almost never just excuses for solos: "Contigo" is a flawless, tuneful
mix of salsa, jazz and rock, while "Transmutation/Industrial" is heavy
metal plus intelligence (both tunes written by the two Santanas). You
can almost hear Santana thinking, "Take that, Joe Satriani!"
Hernández gets in one composition, "Thoughts," but he still has
a long way to go to catch up with his elders; there are also several
traditional tunes, including Joaquin Rodrigo's "En Aranjuez Con Tu
Amor," which features some of Carlos Santana's most articulate soloing
on the disc. Other than Thompson and Reyes, it's a whole new band again:
Myron Dove plays bass, Billy Johnson's on drums, and Karl Perazzo plays
Perhaps the weirdest story of 1999 pop was the uncanny chart dominance of this so-so album by a semi-retired geezer. It's
definitely got its moments: the single "Smooth," a deliberate throwback to early 70's salsa-plus-electric guitar Santana
written and sung by Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, is undeniably catchy, and it topped the charts for months. And the
carefully-assembled group of A-list guest stars - Lauryn Hill, who contributes the
mind-numbing "Do You Like The Way"; Everlast, whose feature "Put Your Lights On" is dull alterna-angst interrupted by an
incongruous Carlos solo; Dave Matthews; Eric Clapton - guaranteed a certain level of sales.
Santana's playing is brilliant as usual, even on the duller tunes (Eagle-Eye Cherry's "Wishing It Was"), and you've got
to give him credit for sticking a stinging attack on US immigration policy ("Migra") into such a commercial project.
The approach is somewhat lacking in depth, though: the collaboration with Mexican rockers Maná ("Corazón
Espinado") is virtually identical to "Smooth," and many of the compositions are ordinary specimens of either salsa-fusion
("El Farol," "(Da Le) Yeleo") or pop/hip hop (Wyclef Jean's "Maria Maria," the endless Clapton collaboration "The Calling").
If you haven't picked up a Santana album in a decade or two, this isn't a bad way to get reacquainted, but he's done better
work as recently as... well, his last album. Produced by Clive Davis and Carlos Santana. This won a pile of Grammys
including Record and Album of the Year.
The Supernatural formula is reused, with guest singers like Seal, Macy Gray, Nickelback's
Chad Kroeger, and Michelle Branch (her horrendous lite rocker "The Game Of Love" was the single). (DBW)