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Happy birthday to an inspiration July 20, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in music.
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At school, in the late sixties, the cool kids had a club called the Electric Music Circle.  Looking back,  I find it mildly astonishing that a group of bright fourteen-year-olds had already developed a taste for Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd.  I myself was, ah, not a member of the Electric Music Circle.  We will draw a veil over my teenage musical tastes.

Not surprisingly, my first year at university (1972-1973) was a little bit of a shock, musically speaking.  My new friends were listening to Floyd, Yes, Zappa, Traffic, the Allman Brothers – music which, within weeks, had completely changed my listening life.  In the end, though, it was a single album, and a single musician, which cemented the change and assumed a central position in my life, a place of honour which both music and musician have occupied for over thirty years.   The album was “Caravanserai”, and the musician was Carlos Santana. 

I played Caravanserai as I drove in to work this morning, thinking about how to approach this blog entry.  I played through the unearthly beauty of Carlos’s guitar in “Song of the Wind”, the driving rhythms of “La Fuente del Ritmo”, and the beautiful treatment of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Stone Flower”.  As I drove into the parking lot, the last notes of Michael Shrieve’s “Every Step of the Way” faded away, and I sat for a moment, spellbound, as always, by the beauty and power of this spectacular piece.  When I first played the album, in early 1973, I’d never heard anything like it.  Now, in 2007, I’m still not sure I have.  The relentless propulsive power of Shrieve’s drums, and Jose “Chepito” Areas and James Mingo Lewis on timbales and congas seem totally unstoppable.

To me, Caravanserai represents the creative peak of the second Santana band.   The music seems effortlessly powerful, whether laying back in “Song of the Wind” or moving with astonishing drive in “All the Love of the Universe”.  And through it all, there’s the sense that the band is looking outwards, experimenting with new people, new sounds and new textures – Caravanserai was the first Santana album to showcase the talents of Cuban percussion genius Armando Peraza (and if you want to hear Peraza at his peak, turn up the volume on “Promise of a Fisherman”, off Santana’s 1974 album, Borboletta).  Probably this period reached a climax with the world tour which resulted in the 1975 live set “Lotus”.  I remember reading Steve Lake’s review of “Lotus” in Melody Maker when the album was released – I cut out the review and kept it for many years.  Lake was of the opinion that the Santana band which made the “Lotus” recordings was, for a time, the best band on the planet. Whether you believe that or not, you cannot listen to the live versions of “Incident at Neshabur” and “Toussaint L’Ouverture” without being aware that you’re in the presence of a special band playing at the absolute ecstatic peak of its abilities.  

 I’ve listened to Carlos Santana down through the decades, to the old material and the new.  The beauty he’s shown me is permanent and imperishable.  On this day, his sixtieth birthday, I’d like to thank him for the joy he’s given to me over thirty-five years and to wish him health and happiness for the future.

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