The Santana Band has just completed the first third of its 2006 European tour. Starting in a chilly Helsinki, Finland, on April 28th, this swing through Europe has gone exceedingly well with packed arenas and enthusiastic audiences welcoming the band at every stop.
While the press reviews have been unfailingly complimentary, one cannot help but notice the continued attempts of music journalists and reviewers to force Santana into some stylistic pigeonhole or other in their efforts to describe the wide range of music the band plays. Suffice it to say that the music they have played for the past thirty plus years is still best described as Santana: this is who they are, and that is what they play.
The personnel is the same as the group that recently completed a very well-received tour in South America, but the musical repertoire, as always, continues in flux. That is to say that one may still expect to hear recent hits such as “Smooth”, “Maria, Maria”,” Corazon Espinado” and “Foo Foo’, along with musical milestones of the past such as “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”,”Oye Como Va”,”Soul Sacrifice”, “Evil Ways”, and “Batuka/No One To Depend On”. But there have been surprises almost nightly in the form of new songs
“Historia”,”Hermes” and ‘Into the Night”, and these have gone over very well. Explosive live favorites “El Fuego”, “Savor” and “I Am Somebody”- all excellent workouts for the percussion section- have been crowd-pleasers, and the more mellow” Africa Bamba”, now in its seventh year of performance and still a stirring platform for the trombone of “Gentleman” Jeff Cressman, continues to connect with every audience.
Perhaps the biggest surprise and most electrifying nightly performance has been that of “Upper Egypt”, a song composed and played by jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders as well as by the late jazz pioneer guitarist Sonny Sharrock and now a staple in the Santana repertoire. Played as a quartet number of keyboards, bass, drums and Carlos,” Upper Egypt” is both Carlos’ tribute to the two aforementioned jazz giants and a platform to give vent to his jazz inclinations- and the audiences have been loving it! Veteran keyboardist Chester Thompson, super dynamic drummer Dennis Chambers, and the redoubtable Benny Rietveld on bass all shine on this number.
Not to be overlooked is the Stockholm guest appearance of vocalist Eagle Eye Cherry performing “Wishing It Was”, and the almost nightly appearances of original Santana drummer, the famed and multi-talented Michael Shrieve, on “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”.
Audiences used to hearing Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez” as the intro to “Maria, Maria” are now being presented with a more expansive intro that starts with an excerpt from the Miles Davis score for the 1957 French movie “ Elevator to the Scaffold [Ascenseur pour l’echafaud] that features some soulful trumpet from Bill” Planet” Ortiz before it morphs into “Concierto” on the way to ‘Maria Maria”. It may be a roundabout way to get there, but as Carlos likes to say about songs he likes,” It’s mighty mean!”
May 10th was particularly special as the band celebrated drummer Dennis Chambers’ birthday. And not to be outdone, Dennis, who has been regaling the band with his backstage/on-the-bus vocalizing for years even lent his mighty baritone to the strains of “Happy Birthday”! Everybody loves Dennis Chambers.
Perhaps most gratifying to everyone on the tour is the success that opening act, The Salvador Santana Band, is enjoying. The band has a revised personnel and a bunch of exciting new songs. One song in particular, “My One True Love”, written by Salvador, is energizing audiences at every venue. I think the band just might have a hit on their hands with this one.
At this juncture of the tour, the Santana Band is performing at its peak nightly and Carlos continues to dip into his own personal bottomless well of melody and invention to delight all in attendance. I think also that everyone in the band, crew, and management finds him or herself simply mesmerized by his ability to woo, sooth, and entrance any listener night after night with his guitar.
With a little more than three weeks to go and with places like Manchester (tonight), London, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Zurich, Milan, Lisbon and others beckoning, this European saga is hardly over. There will be more stories to tell and more songs to be sung and played by Santana.
Written by Hal Miller