Not too long ago I wrote a piece here on Blogcritics titled “Confessions of A Recovering Music Snob.” The article was about my memories as being one of those guys behind the counter at the record store who snickers condescendingly about the music choices customers bring to the register. Many of the comments, however, revolved around a debate that really had nothing to do with the article itself. And that is the age-old debate between technique and passion in music, and those who play it.
For my money this is a debate that simply cannot be won. Because when you get right down to it, it is all subjective. Neil Young, for example, is not the most technically gifted guitarist in the world. But there is no denying the beautiful noise he makes at his cranked up to eleven best.
His solo on “Like A Hurricane” for instance? One of the best ever.
On the other hand, some of the more technically gifted players … like John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, or Yngwie Malmsteen for example … have been known to create some pretty beautiful noise themselves by shredding their way through classically based arpeggios at lightning speed. Clinical? Sure. But nonetheless inspired.
But every once in a while comes along that rare musician who combines both attributes. The Passion and the Technique. Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane are a few who come immediately to mind. Carlos Santana, for my money, is another.
Santana’s career has pretty much been all over the place since he first got the world’s attention with a riveting performance at Woodstock in 1969 (a performance rivaled only by that of Sly and the Family Stone).
These days he has settled into a kind of “elder statesmen” role, making his most commercially successful music in decades under the watchful eye of music mogul Clive Davis. But it is Santana’s first three albums for Columbia Records — made between 1969 and 1971 — that truly defined Carlos the musician and Santana the band.
It was perhaps the last time you could really call Santana a band at all.
Sony’s Legacy series has just released the third of those three great albums in a fully restored, revamped, and expanded version. What made the original Santana band so special was the way they fused so many styles of music — everything from Latin jazz to R&B to even a touch of psychedelia — into this hypnotic, primal stew.
At its core was the voodoo-like percussion — the congas and timbales of Michael Carabello and Jose Chepito Areas — anchored down by the precise drum work of Michael Shrieve. Soaring above it all was the crying, aching guitar of Santana himself.
By the time of Santana 3, Carlos had added a second guitarist — then fifteen year old prodigy Neal Schon — to that original lineup. I saw Santana for the first time that year (for a $3.50 ticket) when they played at the old Seattle Center Coliseum. And I was absolutely transfixed by the dueling guitar interplay between Santana and the prodigal Neal Schon.
And that is the true story of Santana 3, recreated so faithfully here. The dueling guitar solos here between the two (restored beautifully here I might add) are both primal and amazing on tracks like “Batuka,” “Toussaint L’Overture,” and especially “Jungle Strut.”
The two guitarists seem to feed off of each other’s energy. Carlos’ fluid, aching guitar cries are meant note for note by the screaming wah wah and fuzzboxes of the young Neal Schon.
The real plus here, however, is the bonus disc, capturing for the first time on record the entire set Santana played on the closing night of the old Fillmore West. The sound mix here is a bit of a disappointment however. The guitar is often buried under the bass and percussion.
Still, hearing the dueling guitar interplay between Schon and Santana in a live setting is worth the price of admission alone: particularly on a funked up version of “Jungle Strut.”
For all you singles enthusiasts, the original seven-inch version of “No One To Depend On” is here too. Personally speaking, I’ll take the guitars over the singles.