important work in color
1969: Santana. 1970: Abraxas. 1971: Santana III. 1972: Caravaserai. 1973: Welcome. 1974: Lotus-Live in Japan * Barboletta. 1976: Amigos. 1977: Festival * Moonflower. 1978: Inner Secrets. 1979: Marathon. 1981: Zebop. 1982: Shango. 1985: Beyond Appearances. 1987: Historic Santana * Santana 68 * Freedom. 1988: Viva. 1990: Spirits Dancing in the Flesh. 1992: Milagro. 1993: Sacred Fire: Live in South America. 1995: Dance of the Rainbow Serpent (3 CD compilation.) 1997: Live at the Fillmore, 1968. 1999: Supernatural.
Carlos Santana solo and outside projects: 1972: Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles. 1973: Love Devotion Surrender (with John McLaughlin.) 1974: Illumination (with Alice Coltrane.) 1979: Oneness: Silver Dreams/Golden Reality. 1980: Swing of Delight. 1983: Havana Moon. 1987: Blues for Salvador. 1994: Brothers.
Critics have often made fun of Carlos Santanas stage presence. The gist is that his face-to-heaven, weight-of-the-world, brow-furrowed stance is hokey and way uncool. Even before MTV spoiled attitudes towards live music, artifice ruled rock n pop. But good performers like Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Bono, Sting, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince cant help looking a little moldy after theyve shaken their booty a few too many times in front of a few too many people. So the culture of the new demands and gets an Eddie Vedder or a Kurt Cobain which makes for a change of faces if not a change of theatrical scenery. Corrupted by image, its as if the world wants Robert DeNiro or Val Kilmer to play Carlos Santana. The world wants acting, not the real thing. This is ironic, because Carlos Santana actually has been conversing with the Gods, his heart plugged into the muse, his soul flowing in the slipstream between the viaducts of our dreams. As trendy analysts unconsciously compare Santanas guileless, humble, sometimes self-conscious lack of stage presence to Madonnas new girlie show, or Lives new video, or the Stones elaborate stage props, they never mention that whats coming out of Santanas fingers has long ago surpassed in quality all of the rudimentary theatrics that make up rock performances. Carlos Santana on stage is the look of a man in communion.
Born in Mexico and moving, in his teens, to San Franciscos Mission district, Carlos Santana at first tried to distance himself from the music he had heard in his home country. He immersed himself in the blues. But few young people in the sixties escaped the pull of the burgeoning rock n pop explosion, and Santanas love of experimentation and growing fondness for his roots resulted in a musical hybrid that after 30 years remains fresh and powerful. The first cut on Santana, the bands 1969 self-titled debut, signaled that something quite colorful had arrived. An instrumental, "Waiting" was reminiscent of Booker T and the MGs (an early influence of Carlos,) but it had an uncommon time signature, a prevalence of congas, timbales and percussion, and an inclination to go for heat instead of playing it cool.
Also present on Santana were the abysmal lyrics intrinsic to almost every Santana record a handicap that has failed to jeopardize the Santana legacy, mostly because the bands playing is fiery enough to make weak literature irrelevant. The band provides slivers and wisps of songwriterly lyrics on "All the Love of the Universe," "Life is Anew," "Practice What You Preach," "Life is Just a Passing Parade," "Searchin," "Over and Over" and " Brightest Star;" and on these songs theyve come up with a style that is similar to jazz players who riff on classic pop tunes as a foundation for moving into their own space. The lyrics are neither crucial nor detrimental. On rock songs with domineering chord structures like "Open Invitation," "Dealer/Spanish Rose," "Lightning in the Sky," "All I Ever Wanted," "Searchin," "Over and Over," "Brightest Star" and "Vera Cruz," Santana instrumental passion transcends pop-tune constraints.
Carlos is peerless in exploiting the instrumental song. His long list of successes are quite amazing: "Goodness and Mercy," "Samba Pa Ti," "Jin-Go-Lo-Ba," "Tales of Kilimanjaro," "I Love You Much Too Much," "American Gypsy," "Primera Invasion," "Gardenia," "Song for My Brother," " Love Theme From Spartacus," "Transformation Day," "Cry of the Wilderness," "Oneness," "Wham!" "Batuka," Para Los Ruberos," "Red Prophet," Aqua Que Va Caer," "Gypsy/Grajonica" are just a few of the exceptional musical accomplishments that continue to accumulate from album to album. These songs have an astounding melodic resourcefulness and Santanas playing with melodic themes, atmosphere, time signatures and riff-runs (he took what was best about fusion and made it sound naturally rooted in his heritage) is absolutely masterful, and seemingly unending.
Santana, in all its incarnations, has been an exemplary big band. Santanas rhythm section is earthy, but Carlos guitar/keyboard approach is spiritual /mystical (i.e. a great emotional realm for pure music.) The bands percussive approach, even at its most complex, always seems groove oriented rather than abstract. The rhythm section is full of syncopated, explosive stops and starts (often while the melody flows on and on, into the universe.)
From album to album, Carlos has possibly produced the most consistently inspired string of guitar solos of any rock/pop artist. Always soulful, always surprising, what results is as rapturous as only the best pop music. All of Santanas live albums (Lotus, Viva and Sacred Fire) are highly recommended and are uniformly excellent. Also highly recommended are the experimental albums: Caravanserai and Barboletta: the much underrated Carlos Santana solo albums, Swing of Delight and Oneness: Silver Dreams, Golden Reality (which find him working a jazzier format with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, etc.): and the collaborations with Alice Coltrane on Illuminations and John Mclauglin on Love Devotion Surrender. As for the pop albums, interested parties might want to try out Inner Secrets and Zebop, which in many ways are more enjoyable than the first two, highly-regarded, albums - Santana, which is kind of raw, and Abraxas, which boasts rather stiff studio versions of standard Santana material. (The best material from Santana and Abraxas has been better executed on the live releases.) Given the quality of much of Santanas work on some of the spotty records, you would think a great compilation would be easy: but Dance of the Rainbow Serpent leans heavily on the hits, which hasnt been the greatest Santana. (William Ruhlmanns analysis of Santana in All Music Guide to Rock offers another viewpoint which perceive Santanas legacy as somehow wedded to Billboard charts; but Santana has been slyer than most artists in maintaining a vast amount of freedom by controlling, rather than embracing, sales potential.)
Kudos should go to many of Santanas musicians especially the bass players who have done a great job of holding things down while everybody else was given room to show-off.
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