Carlos Santana - guitar, percussion, vocals; Jose "Chepito" Areas - percussion; Jules Broussard - flute, saxophone; David Brown - bass; Tom Coster - keyboards, vocals; Leon Patillo - lead vocals, percussion; Armando Peraza - congas, vocals; Michael Shrieve - drums
Following the monumental success of Santana's first three albums, all of which spawned hit singles and launched their unique brand of percussion-heavy Latin-flavored rock into the mainstream, Carlos Santana began pursuing a more musically challenging and spiritual direction. Inspired by Miles Davis' pioneering moves toward electric instrumentation and highly enamored with the 1972 debut album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Santana began deeply immersing himself in the burgeoning jazz-rock fusion movement. Over the course of the next two years, Carlos would become close friends with Mahavishnu Orchestra founder, John McLaughlin. Aware of Santana's interest in meditation, McLaughlin would introduce him to the teachings of his guru, Sri Chimnoy, who would accept Carlos and his wife Deborah as disciples. The release of Caravanserai in 1972 and Welcome the following year would clearly display Santana's interests in jazz-rock fusion and his commitment toward a more spiritual life. Santana and McLaughlin would also record an album together, Love, Devotion, Surrender and hit the road performing together during the spring of 1973. All of this had a profound effect on Carlos' own music and would contribute to the formation of a new version of Santana, featuring the former core rhythm section augmented by percussionist Armando Peraza and jazz keyboardist Tom Coster. Carlos further pursued his interests on a collaboration with John Coltrane's widow, pianist Alice Coltrane. The result was Illuminations, an album that leaned toward avant-garde esoteric free jazz and prominently included Eastern Indian and classical influences. This again triggered personnel changes in Santana with soprano saxophonist, Jules Broussard and vocalist Leon Thomas being recruited into the band. A tour of Japan was recorded for an ambitious high-energy live album called Lotus that was initially only released in Japan as an expensive three-record set. This clearly captured the band heading in an exciting new direction and despite the unending series of personnel changes over subsequent tours and albums, the root sound of Santana would remain strong and remarkably consistent over the next decade.
This 1974 live performance, recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour near the beginning of Santana's North American tour, captures the 1974 lineup in full flight. Although edited to appeal to radio listeners at the time by emphasizing material from the first three Santana albums, this KBFH broadcast is particularly interesting as it showcases the band applying Carlos' newer musical context to much of the band's most popular earlier material. Indeed, with the exception of "Going Home," the Antonín Leopold Dvorák composed instrumental that kicked off the Welcome album and opens this performance, this entire recording features material from the more popular first three Santana albums. Here "Going Home" serves as a prelude that segues directly into "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen," a brilliant morphing of Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green's bluesy composition with another by Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo, a highlight of Santana's most popular album, Abraxas. The next two numbers are also sourced from the Abraxas album, with the group's engaging interpretation of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" followed by a breathtaking take on "Incident At Neshabur" that clocks in at twice the length of the album version, allowing the group to flex their improvisational muscles. A thrilling percussion-heavy take on "Soul Sacrifice" follows, a highlight of their debut album and the composition that initially gained the band the most street credibility through its appearance in the Woodstock movie. Carlos peals off searing solos, which lead into the lengthy drums and percussion sequence, which evolves into a characteristically hot, highly energetic jam. More ferocious guitar work and an inspired keyboard solo from Coster eventually build into an explosive ending. Despite containing lengthy improvisations and solos, both "Incident" and "Sacrifice" are thoroughly sizzling performances that remain convincing examples of this lineup's formidable powers. They also display John McLaughlin's strong influence on Santana's guitar technique, which is becoming increasingly complex and fluent.
The loveliest performance on this recording is next with "Samba Pa Ti," which returns to Abraxas material. This is simply mesmerizing, providing some of the most penetrating and emotional playing of the evening. Santana and Coster both deliver impressive solos over the percolating groove. A close listen to Carlos during this number, reveals a brief moment where he quotes "Never Can Say Goodbye," which fits perfectly within the context of his solo. The broadcast concludes with one of the standout compositions from Santana's third album, Toussaint L'Overture, an intense instrumental exercise featuring brilliant guitar playing, dense percussive backing and acid/funk grooves not unlike Agharta/Pangea era Miles Davis.
The contemporary music of Miles Davis and the various alumni of his late 1960s/early 1970s groups would continue to have a profound effect on Santana in the years to come, infusing jazzy new elements into the Latin-rock that initially established the band's reputation. The melodic fluency of Santana's guitar solos and the biting, sustained tone that is his signature remained central to the band's sound. Although these new directions would soon alienate those who preferred the early album hits, Santana would gain legions of new fans in the process. This recording serves as a perfect bridge between the old and new, showcasing one of Santana's first fusion oriented lineups applying their formidable talents to much of the classic early repertoire.
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