Friday, September 2, 2011

Sacred Fire: Santana’s Best Playing?

After the first three albums in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (Santana by Santana, Abraxas, and Santana III), the band become more notorious for their live show than for the many albums that were released. (Until 1999’s Supernatural, that is, which ushered in a whole new phase of Carlos Santana’s career.)

During that nearly 30-year span, Carlos, in the studio and on the road constantly, reached the pinnacle of his playing. Nowhere is that supreme skill showcased better than on the band’s concert album Sacred Fire: Live in South America, released in 1993.

He had finally achieved his legendary smooth tone, his chops were exemplary, and he was quite cognizant of the guitar’s role within each song. Besides, the band — featuring the dynamite percussion duo of Raul Rekow (congas) and Karl Perazzo (timbales, congas) — was in top form as well.

Especially gratifying is the dominant role that percussion was still playing within the framework of the music. (Post-Supernatural, percussion has been placed far back in the mix.)

A perfect example of Santana’s melodic wizardry is that album’s version of “Europa,” arguably the best of the many recordings of the iconic instrumental. For six minutes and change, Carlos builds a guitar solo that is a work of art.

If you haven’t heard it, Sacred Fire is well worth checking out.