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I missed Santana at Woodstock in 1969 preferring to turn back just outside Bethel with a crazy, 15 mile traffic jam ahead of me and my three accompanying surf buddies from Jersey. We finally got to hear them a few short months later at Bill Grahams Fillmore East. Post the legendary, August festival of all festivals, Santana the band were riding the crest of that all time live performance that stunned the minds and ears of the world. Their self titled first album had taken off that Fall with the fury of the Saturn 5 rocket that put Apollo 11 into orbit around the moon dropping two astronauts onto it’s craggy surface for the first time ever just a few weeks before the group hit the stage that changed their lives forever led by the outrageously gifted bands namesake, Carlos Santana with his searing, white hot guitar licks.
I’ve been in love with his music ever since after finally witnessing a live performance at the equally fabled East Village venue on the then anything goes under belly of the Big Apple of that era and I’m here to tell you that Carlos Santana’s music and his playing are as relevant and singular sounding as ever. His latest release, “Africa Speaks” is as good as anything he has conjured up in 25 studio releases since “Santana” dropped on vinyl in ’69 along with the LEM that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin hunting for rocks and dirt on the moon while Mike Collins orbited awaiting there safe return.
According to press materials for this latest drop, Santana and legenday producer Rick Rubin recorded as many as 49 tracks for ‘Africa’ and in case that isn’t mind-boggling enough considering Carlos has been making music for over 50 years, dig this: They recorded them all in just TEN days! If that math is not enough to blow your mind consider the majority of those songs are first takes. Really. This probably explains why all of this of amazing songs stand out the way they do because, with so much new material to pick and choose from, every song had to be especially spectacular to make it on to the recording begging the question can we get a volume 2, a.s.a.p please?
Much of Africa Speaks harks back to what we could comfortably call Santana’s heyday, many songs here allow the rhythm to take over, giving Santana’s distorted guitar tone a proper party at which to hold court. Fast-paced“Batonga” along with the falling-down-funk of album closer “Candombe Cumbele” are key cases in point. No one holds back, there’s no sense of easing off to let someone show off, this is en masse virtuoso playing from all quarters. It gives very little time for the listener to catch breath, going instead for a sense of relentless musical intoxication.
Track o2: Batonga / 5:43
Track 05: Blue Skies / 9:08
Grammy nominee and award winning Spanish singer Concha Buika, a force throughout the album, might be what is called a”guest vocalist” but she owns these songs and is a brilliant choice to give voice along side the masters guitar and the bands soaring musical talents. She is especially riveting on “Oye Este Mi Canto.” The tune launches itself sounding like a seduction until about halfway through, when the vibe gets funkier behind another crisp and astonishing Santana lead break. But even that remarkable tune feels like table-setting once “Yo Me Lo Merezco” starts flowing from your speakers. You don’t have to speak the language to be moved and transported by the absolute power of these vocals and mesmerizing music. And when Carlos starts bending those razor crisp leads as only he can you can’t help but hear Santana’s heart and soul bursting out of his guitar. You’re hearing a pure musical vessel channeling the vibrations around him just like during that legendary set at Max Yasgurs farm 50 years ago.
From his early days stealing the show at Woodstock from axemen peers the likes of Jimi Hendix, Alvin Lee and Pete Townsend to achieving bone fide icon status for his pioneering work in the field of fusion solos, he’s at a stage where he can do pretty much whatever he wants and should be allowed to. When Carols speaks with his fingers all music loving people across every continent should listen to what he’s playing with appreciation that he exists now to create so many musical masterpieces in our time of living. – Mez –