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‘Carlos’ Review: A Profile of Santana Revels in His Musical Life Force

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“Carlos” has probably the greatest openings I’ve ever seen — or heard — in a music documentary. We hear Carlos Santana, waxing philosophical and clever (as he’s susceptible to do). Intercut along with his phrases, at throbbing intervals of about 20 seconds (and at high quantity), are the long-lasting organ-and-bass notes — BOM BOM!…BOM BOM! — that open “Oye Como Va,” the 1971 hit by Santana. I’ll confess that “Oye Como Va” is a kind of classic-rock radio staples I really feel like I’ve heard extra occasions in my life than I ever must. (Kind of like “Moondance” and “Tempted” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”) But “Carlos,” as an alternative of assaulting you with the track, severs these 4 notes from it (BOM BOM!…BOM BOM!) and blows them up into a chunk of pop artwork, like a Warhol sound portray. It asks us to listen to the magic of what Carlos Santana did by reveling within the sonic texture, the Latin-gone-psychedelic moxie of these notes.

They’ve a life power, and that’s the story “Carlos” tells. Constructed round an prolonged interview with Carlos Santana, who at 75 is spry and rueful and humorous and confessional, Rudy Valdez’s documentary presents Santana’s life and profession in a simple method, however that doesn’t clarify why the movie is so enthralling.

Santana, as we uncover, had a really completely different arc than different rock stars. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, he grew up in one of the vital impoverished sections of Tijuana, with a father who was a mariachi musician (he taught Carlos methods to play the violin). What the movie exhibits us is that Carlos approached life and music with a non secular reverence he by no means misplaced. He worshipped his father, regardless that he was a philanderer, and his mom too (he swore to her that at some point he’d purchase her a home). The household moved to San Francisco, and we hear a tape recording of Carlos from 1966, when he was beginning to play in bands, and his guitar soloing is already extraordinary — he’s like B.B. King on a Haight-Ashbury bender.

What was there in Santana’s music from the beginning, and what by no means left (you hear it in these notes from “Oye Como Va”), was an electrified religion, a perception in life that he poured into his fusion of rock ‘n’ roll and Latin jazz and the blues and…that ineffable Santana factor. Within the late ’60s, when Santana was a thin handsome child with a mustache, hanging round Invoice Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium (as a result of everybody below the counterculture solar performed there), he gained consideration for his expertise and was tapped to go onstage as a part of a Sunday afternoon fill-in set. His description of that have is surreal (he was a no person all of a sudden thrust into being a rock star), and that mirrored what occurred subsequent, as Santana put his first band collectively and have become a staple on the Fillmore, the one band to play there that didn’t have a recording contract. They had been simply locals too incendiary to disregard.

Audiences acquired hooked on them — to the sound and fury of Santana’s assault. But it surely was Woodstock that elevated him to the massive leagues, and the story he tells in “Carlos” about that efficiency is without doubt one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll anecdotes I’ve ever heard. Carlos arrived at Woodstock by helicopter, and the very first thing he encountered there was Jerry Garcia (who he knew from the Fillmore), extending an open hand with some drugs in it. Carlos wasn’t scheduled to go on for a lot of hours, so he figured he’d take the drugs and they might put on off.

The subsequent factor he knew, the Woodstock announcer, with that deep voice, was introducing Santana. Carlos stepped onstage out of his thoughts on acid. We’ve all seen Santana within the “Woodstock” film, enjoying “Soul Sacrifice” — the driving beat, the thrashing-drums-and pumping-organ depth, topped by Carlos’ prolonged soloing, as articulate in its fury as Hendrix’s. He additionally makes some very ugly rock-overbite faces. The movie exhibits these clips, and Carlos, trying again, explains to us what was taking place: He thought the neck of his guitar had became a writhing snake, one he was actually wrestling in order that he might subdue it sufficient to play. What the entire world noticed was a guitarist on pure electrical fireplace. What Carlos was doing was attempting to maintain a demon below management.

It was sheer karmic coincidence that Santana’s self-titled first album, recorded for Columbia Information (the band had been signed by Clive Davis), was scheduled to be launched only one week after Woodstock. It spent greater than two years on the Billboard 200 chart, and whereas its success was pushed by the one “Evil Ways,” greater than half the album was instrumental, and that was its essence. Rolling Stone panned it by calling it “a speed freak’s delight — fast, pounding, frantic music with no real content,” which in hindsight feels like a praise. The content material of Santana’s music was its Latin hellfire vibe, its propulsive majesty.

Launched into the ’70s, Carlos Santana had as idiosyncratic — and dedicated ­— an odyssey as any musician of his time. Early on, pushed by the success of “Santana” and “Abraxas,” he lived the rock-star dream. However Carlos turned out to be one thing of an ascetic, and that guided his profession in a number of methods. The members of Santana, the band, stored shifting; Carlos was the one fixed. And within the mid-’70s, he mainly renounced the rock ‘n’ roll life-style by changing into a white-suited disciple of the Indian religious chief Sri Chinmoy, who additionally counted Mahavishnu Orchestra founder John McLaughlin amongst his followers. The primary rock live performance I ever went to was the Santana/McLaughlin tour — a cascade of intertwined guitar rapture, and nonetheless the loudest live performance I’ve ever heard.

“Carlos,” like nearly each music doc nowadays, isn’t precisely a warts-and-all portrait. When Carlos talks about how he did purchase his mom a home, it’s introduced as a second of the purest crowd-pleasing triumph. But he was additionally indignant at his mom for not defending him. Late within the film, Santana recollects the sexual molestation he suffered by the hands of a neighborhood predator, and we see extra clearly than ever that his musical religion isn’t severed from ache. It’s constructed on a rejection of it.

“Carlos” supplies a simply intimate sufficient glimpse of who Santana was and is offstage. He devoted himself to elevating his household; in that spirit, he tells us that music is what he does, not who he’s. However we will see that it’s each. At house, Santana likes to make solo video recordings of himself, often with no shirt on, improvising on the guitar with backing tracks. Watching these rec-room noodlings, you see that he’s somebody who actually breathes music. That’s a part of what made his extraordinary comeback, in 1999, with “Supernatural” really feel so natural. The guitar soloing that lifted “Smooth,” his collaboration with Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas, to the heavens wasn’t that completely different from the guitar soloing he did on acid at Woodstock in 1969. However 30 years later, he didn’t need to work so arduous to tame the snake.



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