Thursday, April 7, 2011

April 7: Santana, "Soul Sacrifice"

Artist: Santana
Song: "Soul Sacrifice"
Album: Woodstock
Year: 1969

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In nearly every case, when a new artist or band comes along with a unique blend of sounds, within a few months, there are other groups who have managed to imitate the style, though most times not to the same degree of impact.  This is a nature trend within music, and yet there are a small handful of situations where a sound was so distinctive, so perfectly balanced, that no other group was able to force themselves into comparison with the originators.  While one can find a number of these instances, no other is as clear and unquestionable as the sound that was "created" when the world was first introduced to a guitar player named Carlos Santana.  Fronting the band that shared his last name, throughout the latter part of the 1960's and early 1970's, the band was responsible for some of the most exciting and original blends of psychedelic rock and Latin percussion that the world has ever heard.  Furthermore, within their first few records, Santana found a way to fuse together all these sounds without stepping too far into any single one, resulting in a musical style that simply cannot be defined.  This can be clearly heard across the bands' self-titled 1969 debut record, and yet there is one element still missing from that recording.  It would not be until mid-August of that year that this would become clear, and it is the power and presence of the bands' live performance that proves to be the missing piece.  Thankfully, this can still be experienced to this day, and there may not be another live recording that is as smoldering and absolutely invigorating as one can hear and feel on Santana's legendary performance of "Soul Sacrifice" from the Woodstock Music And Arts Fair.

At the time of the performance, Santana was still relatively unknown, as their debut record preceded the event by only a few weeks.  It is perhaps this status that allowed the band to be completely free on stage, as there were no expectations in any way.  While there were a number of phenomenal performances at the festival, Santana's stands out, as the band slides into the song, syncing their rhythm with the chanting of the crowd.  This is led by the deep groove from bassist David Brown, and throughout the song, it is his playing that drives the song.  It is within his playing that the bands' jazz influences become apparent, and he easily works different tempos and rhythms through the various sections of "Soul Sacrifice."  The other part of the rhythm section, drummer Michael Shrieve and percussionists Michael Carabello and Jose Areas bring Santana's Latin roots to the forefront, and it is the way in which they so seamlessly blend them into the rock sound that makes the song so amazing.  One can easily feel how the musicians have given themselves completely to the "will" of the song from a very early stage, and they seem to be pushing one another as the song progresses.  Yet one cannot deny how Shrieve stands out from his bandmates, and the drum solo he lets loose on "Soul Sacrifice" was not only a highlight of the festival, but remains one of the greatest drum solos in all of music history.

However, while the rhythm section of Santana quickly made their case as one of the most talented of all time, it is the final two members of the band that push "Soul Sacrifice" to a truly legendary status.  The tone found within the keyboards of Gregg Rolie is nothing short of perfect, and there is also an aggression within his playing that gives the band a far more "rock" sound.  It is also within his playing that the clear kinship to the psychedelic movement is most evident, and yet there remains a "sting" to his sound that is completely unique.  The way in which his playing wind in and around the guitar of Carlos Santana is perhaps the most memorable, almost dramatic aspect of the song, and it is clear that both performers were in rare form during this performance.  Truth be told, there are few guitar players in history that have as instantly recognizable a sound as Carlos Santana, and though many have tried to duplicate this tone, none have even come close.  On the Woodstock version of "Soul Sacrifice," Santana lets loose some of his most brilliant playing, and when one considers the term "inspired performance," there are few others that are worth of such a title.  Though in later years, Santana would comment that there may have been some "chemical forces" that pushed him to another level, the sheer talent and masterful soloing he displays almost instantly solidified him as a guitar legend, and even after repeated listenings, his performance is just as stunning.

Taking all of the top-notch performances found on Santana's "Soul Sacrifice," perhaps the most telling element of the song is the fact that no band member tries to "dominate" the song, and it is this shared effort that makes the song so distinctive.  This is another nod to the jazz ethos, as each player is given space to fully explore the songs' theme as they see fit, and it is this combination of different musical perspectives that makes it impossible to duplicate Santana's sound.  The bouncing, almost hollow sound of the timbales and congas gives "Soul Sacrifice" more depth than the music of their peers, and it is the continuous balance that Santana achieves that makes it understandable why this performance turned the group into "overnight legends."  While the studio version of "Soul Sacrifice" that was released on their debut album is certainly an exceptional recording, the edge and fire that lived within the band does not come across nearly as well as it does on their iconic performance from Woodstock.  Furthermore, though they were closely linked with the psychedelic movement of their native San Francisco, it is easy to understand why they were so far apart from their peers.  Bringing an aggression and "freedom" to their music that was largely absent from other psychedelic bands of the era, one must experience Santana's mastery firsthand, and to quickly understand the iconic status which they hold to this day, one need look no further than their performance of "Soul Sacrifice" from the 1969 Woodstock Music And Arts Fair.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really loved this revied of the song! Points out all the details about what made that live performance one of best ever!