Picks and Pans Review: Viva Santana!

updated 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST


This three-record compendium of Carlos Santana's 21-year career is the most recent entry in the retrospective sweepstakes. The 30 songs, culled from both Santana's solo work and the various configurations of his band, are more representative and more consistently entertaining than, say, either the Clapton or Dylan anthologies. Viva Santana! is particularly striking in the way it reflects Santana's consistency of both style and quality. His electrifying synthesis of Afro-Cuban music and rock-fusion remains unique. Most of these tracks, some previously unreleased, were recorded in Santana's natural habitat: the spaciousness of a live concert. He responds by driving his musicians hard, creating a festival-like experience surpassed by few of his contemporaries. The album follows no specific chronological sequence, other than starting with Everybody's Everything from 1971 and ending with the then unknown Santana band's performance of Soul Sacrifice at Woodstock. Santana, one of seven children whose father, Jose, was a mariachi violinist in Mexico, was heavily influenced by American bluesmen like B.B. King when Santana settled in San Francisco and later by the free-form styles of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Just Let the Music Speak, for instance, was derived from a Davis riff; Carlos even had the courtesy to ask the trumpet player for permission to lift it. Super Boogie/Hong Kong Blues is another exemplary track, unfurling with a torrid lead and then settling effortlessly into a calmer groove. The more meditative tunes, such as Aqua Marine, break up the record, and by the time the listener gets to Europa, one of rock's finest instrumental compositions, Santana's hypnotic qualities are clear. There is little material from the '80s, which may be an acknowledgment that Santana's recent production has been uneven. He also might have included a track from his exceptional 1973 album, Lotus, a rare and expensive treasure recorded live in Japan. The album remains an impressive testimonial. Santana dedicates the set to his longtime percussionist Armando Peraza, from whom, Santana says, he "learned a lot about respect and dignity, never to show you are tired onstage or to walk like a tired camel." (Columbia)

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