In 1969, Carlos Santana and his group exploded on the scene with an electrifying performance at Woodstock. For the next few years, his searing guitar and Latin-based rock were pounced on by a ravenous rock public, Santana, the star, couldn't have been more pleased. Santana, the man, began to have his doubts.
So, in 1972, he and his wife "went shopping, in New York, for a spiritual guru," as he whimsically puts it. The other-worldly smile of Sri Chinmoy was cast upon his furrowed brow and Santana was hooked. He cut his hair, began wearing neat, white suits, acquired the new name, Devadip, and assumed the familiar smile.
He also changed his music.
The brash rhythms and flashy, rock riffs were abandoned for a more complex and abstract approach for more complex and abstract approach that was similiar to the fusion music of jazz guitarist Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, another Chinmoy disciple. They even collaborated on a record, "Love, Devotion, Surrender," an effort that was marked by musical expertise and mystical posturing.
Santana, despite his earnestness, was definitely exceeding his grasp. An admirable rock guitarist, he was unequal to the technical demands of jazz, and his new music, burdened by its cosmic overtones, lacked the freshness of his earlier work. Devadip might have seen the light, but many of his followers began to take a dim view of his playing, and record sales slowed.
Recently, Santana has seen another light, of sorts. He has returned to rock 'n' roll. While the cynics might argue that the lucrative greenness of rock is as attractive as the purer colors of the Beyond, Santana, with the record "Inner Secrets," has proved that, both monetarily and musically, rock is where he belongs. With a newly refurbished group, highlighted by the soulfulvocals of Greg Walker, Santana (the group) roars with songs like the classic "Well All Right." Rock music has reclaimed one of its own.
Well, not quite.
As if to dispel any thoughts about a spiritual regression, Devalip Carlos Santana also has released his first solo record, "Oneness, Silver Dreams-Golden Reality" (Xcol JC 25686). With its swirling, golden cover, a row of Buddhas stretching to infinity, and its quotations from Chinmoy (written in a delicate, Eastern-looking script) "Oneness" proclaims Devadip's devotion to his guru with all the subtlety of a billboard on Times Square.
The music is equally "subtle." The pings of bells and a droning voice on the fiirst song, "The Chosen One," try to create the mood of some ancient Eastern rite. These are followed by sweeping, synthesized chords that reinforce the feeling of religious ceremony.
From the hilariously soleemn beginning, "Oneness" winds it way through various rock and jazz songs with occasional lapses into grand, organ-like sections that remind the listener that this record is serious.
"Cry of the Wilderness" and "Life is Just a Passing Parade" are bluesy, rocking numbers with the soul-Latin accents, while inn "Light Versus Darkness," Santana unleashesa blistering guitar solo that is pure heaven. He blends the coolness of his jazzy, "inspired" works with the fire of his rock playing in a way that is both exciting and imaginative.
Stilll, he cannot resist dabbling in his cumbersome displays of higher consciousness. "Silver Dreams Golden Smiles" is an embarrasing attempt at sincerity, in which Greg Walker's vocals croon above a thick background of sappy strings that would be perfect Muzak for a dentist's office. "I Am Free," a poem by Chinmoy which Santana has set to "music," is contrived and delivered with plastic calmness.
Why Santana feels obliged to include suvch lushly ludicrous songs is not all that apparent. Perhaps he believes that rock 'n' roll is not the proper setting for his beliefs, or that religious messages deserve a "religiously" musical setting. Like many rock musicians who decide that they want to be "classical" composers and rent the London Symphony Orchestra for the afternoon, Santana must think that he can be profound by writing music that sounds like the soundtrack from the "Ten Commandments."
The strength and honesty of Santana's beliefs are hardly the question.These have obviously helped him to make some sense out of the nonsensical rock world and, as a musician, it is only natural that he would wish to express his happiness with his music. But when he abandons rock for his grander musical statements, he deprives himself of the most effective his joy and self-knowledge. CAPTION: Picture, Carlos "Devadip" Santana