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Published: 2016/05/13
by Jeff Tamarkin

Santana
Santana IV

Fans are right to be skeptical of classic-rock band reunions: All too often they disappoint, that once special mojo evaporated with time. So when it was announced that Carlos Santana would reconvene the 1971 lineup of his band, the one that recorded Santana III, an album that spent five weeks at number one on the Billboard chart, it was probably wise to do the wait-and-see. Two of the key members of that outfit, guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Gregg Rolie, had, after all, gone on to form Journey, a band that took a very different turn musically from day one. Drummer Michael Shrieve, who first stunned with his for-the-ages solo at Woodstock, had spent most of his post-Santana time working within jazz-rock fusion and experimental music. Percussionist Michael Carabello practically disappeared from view, there wasn’t any mention of percussionist Jose Chepito Areas being involved, and David Brown, bassist on III, died in 2000. So how did they do? Santana IV is nothing less than a masterwork, one of the most dazzling, impeccably crafted creations that any of these musicians has ever been involved with. Had it followed III, it would be considered one of the great rock albums of all time today. Whatever it was that these musicians had in 1971 when they first came together, they still have it in 2016, and then some. It’s a joyful thing to behold. It’s all there from the opening notes of Carlos Santana’s “Yambu,” an exercise in deep funk that finds the entire group—augmented by bassist Benny Rietveld and percussionist Karl Perazzo—locking in as if they’d been together all along. Through the album’s 16 tracks, the guitars of Santana and Schon often entwine single-mindedly; Rolie’s keys add a full swirl of colors; the rhythm section is nonpareil. The jam that is “Fillmore East” could very well have been performed at that long-ago venue, and “Blues Magic” soars beyond any clichés its name suggests, into a realm of spirituality inherent in so much of the music that Santana has always championed. Two consecutive R&B-infused tracks, “Love Makes the World Go Round” and “Freedom in Your Mind,” feature vocals from Isley Brothers legend Ronald Isley, the Rolie-written and sung “Anywhere You Want to Go” is a total throwback to the original Santana Latin-rock sound, and “Forgiveness,” the closer, is empyreal and kaleidoscopic. Santana IV exceeds all expectations. If the entity that is Santana were to close up shop today, then they would have gone out on the highest of high notes.

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