Santana IV

Santana

The original Santana band formed in 1967, were managed by Bill Graham and blasted into national prominence at Woodstock. Infusing a slew of musical styles filled with Latin flavors and percussion into a creative whole not heard in the rock idiom before, Santana in the early 70s became a major force in the rock and roll firmament.

Today, guitarist Carlos Santana is a bona fide superstar and Grammy winner many times over. His band, with a revolving door of members since the 70s, continues to rock and roll prominence. But there are those who consider the lineup from the early 70s as the "classic" Santana. We're talking about Santana, of course, drummer Michael Shrieve, percussionist Michael Carabello, guitarist Neal Schon and vocalist and keyboardist Gregg Rolie. This is the group that produced Santana III in 1971, and now 45 years later they're back with Santana IV.

Why, after nearly a half-century, has this group of musicians gotten back together? Carlos Santana feels the turbulence of fear and uncertainty in the world today is similar to when his band rose to prominence, and Santana's music is needed now, maybe more than ever. He credits Neal Schon, who joined the band at the ripe old age of 15, for bugging him for years to get this reunion to happen (lest we recall Schon and Rolie left Santana and formed Journey). So, with a new album in the can, what does it all sound like four and half decades later?

Surely there are places among these 16 tracks where things fall squarely on the still very capable shoulders of the fret master this band is named after. But with Shrieve, Carabello, Schon, Rolie, bassist Benny Rietveld (in place of the classic lineup's bassist David Brown died in 2000), and percussionist Karl Perazzo (replacing Jose Octavio "Chepito" Areas) on board, Santana IV is a band effort through and through.

You've got the Latin, jazzy groove opener "Yambu," with its chanted Spanish lyric and Rolie laying down the heavy end with Rietveld, and Santana and Schon playing lightly. There's Rolie singing low and strong, and jamming on lead organ on the love song "Choo Choo." We are reminded of how this very magical brew first came together, and how they were certainly like no other.

This meeting of jazz, salsa, fusion, afro beats and rock is what made Santana so noticeable in San Francisco of the late 1960s. And here we get that vibe all over again. Just hearing Rolie bubbling up under Carlos Santana will bring smiles to your mug time and again, as you realize how very magical this combination of players is.

Adding a little soul to the mix, Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers sings on two tracks, "Love Makes The World Go Round" and "Freedom In Your Mind," both of which feature some wonderful percussion. The chunking, sly "Caminando" sees both Schon and Santana take the lead, bending strings in and out of a high-riot salsa, fusion ripper. This is a high-water mark with Rolie sounding like Bowie in his lower register and Shrieve, Carabello and Perazzo laying it down hard on what is by far the best tune on Santana IV.

The slow piano/guitar ballad of "You And I," with Rolie's piano under Santana's well picked single notes will bring a tear to your eye. The closing "Forgiveness" is yet another slow lament of sweet guitar noodling between the perfect pairing of Santana and Schon - years ago, student and teacher; now contemporaries - is slightly more modern and stylish with its bleed of synth strings. A touching sendoff, indeed. You spin through Santana IV and you think these guys shouldn't have ever stopped making music together.

~ Ralph Greco

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