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Drummer Adds New Spice to Santana

September 22, 1997|ERNESTO LECHNER

Not much has changed in Carlos Santana's music, as showcased in a rollicking performance Saturday in the second of his three nights at the Greek Theatre. As a matter of fact, the guitarist's latest album is a previously unreleased live session from his 1968 heyday, when his distinct brand of blues guitar and Latin percussion became synonymous with the positive vibes of the Summer of Love.

Yet, there are four words that are new to the Santana vocabulary, and they made a big, splashy difference this time around: Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez.

Hernandez, a Cuban drummer of ferociously propulsive rhythm and unfathomable independence between hands and feet, was until now a hidden treasure, known only to collectors of Latin jazz albums imported from his native island. His addition this year to the ever-changing Santana lineup spiced up a show that relied as much on the old hits as on rich, dense instrumental improvisations.

There's no doubt that the leader's playing cannot be improved. His is one of the most distinctive guitar sounds of the rock era, and his sheer enthusiasm for playing is what kept the concert alive, besides the obvious pleasures a four-piece percussion section (two drum kits, congas and timbales) can offer.

In between obligatory favorites such as "Guajira," "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va," Santana found the time to address some words of inspiration to the Latino side of the audience and then to preach his credo of peace, love and meditation as means to universal healing. Idealistic, perhaps, but still a message that's hard to dismiss.

* Santana appears Tuesday at Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore, 7:30 p.m. $15-$30. (909) 886-8742.

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