When Carlos Santana announced in the Blues Brother’s parlance that “he was putting the band back together” for his latest project long time Santana fans were beside themselves with anticipation. This was the band that came to prominence following their Woodstock performance and gave us the first three Santana albums (Santana, Abraxas, Santana III). The burning question was: after 45 years since they last recorded together would they have something to offer that would excite us or would it merely be a journey into nostalgia?
I was on board from the opening funky riff of Yambu, a soulful African, roots reggae number embodying the fusion of styles that made Santana such a thrilling and groundbreaking band in the first place. Shake It follows, with Carlos and Neal Schon trading blues rock riffs while Michael Shrieve (drums) and Michael Carabello (percussion) are locked into a fabulous driving rhythm. Anywhere You Want To Go (the first single from the album) features Gregg Rolie on the Hammond B3 in a classic Latin flavoured Santana number. By the time the band slip into the shimmering groove of Fillmore East you know that this album is the real deal and you’re in for a sonic ride.
It’s been a long time since I was captivated by a Santana album. Let’s be honest, there hasn’t been much to rave about in the last 30 odd years, including the wildly successful Supernatural in 1997 (yeah, I know I’ll get shot down for that – given it’s 30 million plus sales there’s every chance you’ve got a copy in your collection). To be fair, Supernatural isn’t a bad album (all those Grammys will attest to that right?), it just never felt like a band album – basically Carlos and a lot of superstar guests.
The point I’m making is that when you listen to the new album it sounds like a collective group of very talented musicians playing as one and being inspired by each other to extend themselves out of their own comfort zones. This is an album full of jams traversing the Latin, jazz, blues and rock idioms fused by a group of players who implicitly understand each other’s strengths working off every nuance and taking the music into new and uncharted territory.
It doesn’t always work as well at you might expect. Echizo features some sensational interplay between Santana and Schon over a rhythmic Latin beat, then just when you’re riding the crest of the wave it suddenly fades out like they ran out of time to squeeze it in on the album. All is quickly forgiven as they launch into the next track Come As You Are, a joyous Caribbean flavoured salsa that will instantly bring a smile to your dial whilst admiring the virtuoso work of Carlos who deftly still manages to fly without overtaking the song. Other standouts include the exquisite You And I and the charged, funked up jam All Aboard.
Carlos says of the album “it is a marvellous revelation to arrive together in gathering the hearts and minds of the musicians who first created this music. It was a joyous celebration of our musical spirit”. It’s a sentiment that will be appreciated by the band’s old school fans who have the pleasure of experiencing it.
Read more from Trevor Jackson at sounddistractions.com