Don’t look now, but this very moment, Carlos Santana is challenging Warren Haynes as the hardest-working man in show business. This one seems like a dead heat, as Carlos has really stepped it up recently, recording and releasing albums, preforming in a variety of settings, and re-forming bands from Santana eras of old.
You be the judge.
Last year, Carlos released the album Corazon, followed by Corazon Live from Mexico: Live It to Believe It. He and wife Cindy Blackman Santana have toured extensively. The next great collaboration occurs at the Lockn’ Music Festival, where he joins forces with Phil Lesh & Friends, including — wait for it — Warren Haynes!
He just finished work on a project titled Santana IV, reuniting the 1971-1972 edition of the band, with original members Greg Rolie, Michael Carabello and Marcus Malone, as well as drummer Michael Shrieve (forever immortalized in the movie Woodstock) and guitarist Neal Schon (joined in 1971, went on to Journey, seen prominently in the movie Fillmore: The Last Days). The band has already recorded an album for release.
Back in 1973, Carlos and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin embarked on a tour called “Love Devotion Surrender.” It was in the summer, between the recording of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire and their August 1973 live album, Between Nothingness and Eternity. For Carlos, the tour and album he and McLaughlin recorded fit between Caravanserai and Welcome. Those lucky enough to catch one (or more) of those shows speak of them with holy reverence.
Fast-forward to 2011. Both Carlos and McLaughlin had played at the Montreux Jazz Festival numerous times, but that was the year they decided to perform together again. The results were stunning, the evidence of which will be released on September 11th as a double CD titled Invitation to Illumination, with a remarkable band behind them, including Blackman Santana, Dennis Chambers and Etienne M’Bappe. The set has been available for two years on DVD, but this is the first release on audio disk.
The Montreux recording features most of the tunes from “Love Devotion Surrender” and compositions as far-reaching as Miles Davis and Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan, Pharaoh Sanders and Michael Jackson. These two have the Midas touch, regardless of what they select to perform.
That becomes all the more relevant given the next announcement from Carlos: the formation of a band with McLaughlin and — really wait for it — Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Those two and McLaughlin were at the center of the storm that began ‘quietly’ as In a Silent Way and exploded into Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and more. Oh, and Blackman Santana on drums.
Time out: don’t think for a nanosecond that Blackman Santana is included here only because she is Carlos’ wife. She was an extremely accomplished drummer long before they met, having moved to New York in the ‘80s, worked with giants Freddie Hubbard and Sam Rivers before joining the band of another giant, Jackie McLean. She has 11 albums to her credit as leader in addition to countless other album appearances.
Carlos’ plan is to record this band in the spring and tour Europe — and maybe the US — in the summer. Maybe? PLEASE!
As if all of that were not enough, there is more! He also has a project going with Ronald Isley and Larry Graham. Most know Isley as the lead singer for the Isley Brothers, and many recognize Larry Graham as the bass player for Sly and the Family Stone. What almost nobody knows is that Graham, otherwise best known for his beautiful hit single “One in a Million You,” had the second-greatest funk band of the ‘70s, Graham Central Station (you know George Clinton had the greatest one). That should be yet another amazing project.
To paraphrase from When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what he’s having!”