In a field too often dominated by fiscal concerns and tethered to trendiness, Carlos Santana offers sanctuary for the steady heart and the selective ear. As he celebrates his 25th anniversary as a professional musician, the guitarist who got his start on the streets of Tijuana can look back on his career with a great deal more pride than regret.
As one might expect from someone who has released 30-odd albums, not all of Santana's work has matched the level of his sincerity and commitment to it. But for every stubbed toe (usually these have occurred when he has attempted to steer his band in a radio-active direction), there have been long stretches of productivity marked by inspired writing and soulful jamming.
At any one time, Santana's eclecticism can embrace salsa, rock, funk, jazz, new-age, fusion, classical music and whatever else might be snared from the passing currents. But there are two constants in the Santana equation.
One is his own playing. Notwithstanding all the hot-shots who have come and gone in two decades, Santana remains one of the more resourceful and emotionally involving guitarists in contemporary music. The other is his seemingly incessant fiddling with various combinations of talent to keep the ensemble perspective fresh.
Recently, soul-tenor Tony Lindsay replaced Alex Ligertwood on vocals, drummer Billy Johnson dethroned Walfredo Reyes, and percussionists Raul Rekow (congas) and Karl Perazzo (timbales) supplanted Armando Peraza. Keyboardist Chester Thompson and bassist Benny Rietveld are holdovers from the crew that recorded last year's album, "Spirits Dancing in the Flesh." Excellent reviews of the new band's live playing precede its appearance tonight at the Starlight Bowl.