SANTANA: Bill Graham Memorial 1991 (CD)


Bill Graham's love for Latin music is well documented and his association with Santana dates back to the earliest days of the band, when they were frequently featured at the Fillmores. So it comes as no surprise that the first group to be given an extended slot on the bill this day was Santana. The group delivered an extremely engaging set that included several special guests, including a return of Bobby McFerrin as well as the members of Los Lobos. While this era of Santana is not as popular as other incarnations of the group, the performance delivered on this afternoon ranks as one of the strongest and most spiritual performances of their entire career.

Kicking things off with a sizzling take on "Spirits Dancing in the Flesh," they immediately establish the tone of things to come. This is truly an incendiary performance, with Carlos penetrating leads soaring over the percolations of a tightly focused band.

They continue with the appropriately titled "Somewhere in Heaven." The piece begins with vocalist Tony Lindsay and the group providing a soulful context for Carlos' introspective guitar work, which drips with deep feeling and emotional impact. After the initial vocal sequence, the band takes off into a smoking jam that features Carlos at his best, before returning to the spiritual context with which it began.

A contemplative feeling continues into the next piece, a trilogy that opens with John Coltrane's "Peace on Earth." This segues directly into a rocking rendition of "Mother Earth," before launching into Jimi Hendrix's classic "Third Stone From the Sun." As the band brings the Hendrix section to a close, they keep the momentum going by transitioning into "Oye Coma Va." This favorite of Bill Graham includes Los Lobos' sax player, Steve Berlin, blowing a nice solo early on, before fellow bandmembers David Hildago and Cesar Rosas join in on additional guitars. This extended jam also features Bobby McFerrin returning to the stage to help out with additional vocals. This trilogy is certainly one of the early highlights of the day.

At this point, Los Lobos take over for a number. With Carlos remaining onstage to spice it up on guitar, they perform The Grateful Dead's "Bertha" together, much to the delight of the audience.

Los Lobos exit, and while Santana members return to the stage, Carlos dedicates the next number to Bill Graham. "I Love You Too Much" again features the band in a spiritual light, with lovely contemplative guitar work from Carlos, much like his most memorable moments on the classic Santana track, "Samba Pa Ti."

They conclude the set by reaching back to the earliest days of the band by performing Baba Olatungi's classic "Jingo," featuring brief solos from everyone in the group. In all, this is a thoroughly engaging performance that stands as a loving tribute to Bill Graham and a celebration of life for the multitudes assembled in the park.