Guitarist joins forces with ex-Hendrix drummer to unleash a musical storm
Imagine an album like this getting into the Top 10 today? Hard to picture isn’t it, but that’s exactly what Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live! actually did. Recorded in Diamond Head crater, Honolulu Hawaii at the Sunshine Music Festival on New Year’s Day, 1972, Santana was riding a wave of popularity, greater perhaps than any other guitarist at the time (with the exception of Jimi Hendrix, although he had passed away over a year before), so it should come as no surprise that the Latin rock pioneer should team up with the likes of Buddy Miles, who was something of a musical legend in his own right, having played with The Electric Flag (which included Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield), John McLaughlin, and of course Jimi Hendrix.
By the early ‘70s, Santana was beginning to move away from the Latin rock that had made him popular, and more toward jazz fusion, just as many guitarists were beginning to do, exploring new frontiers of creative freedom. Although Live! is somewhere in between, blending the familiar Santana sound with Miles’ earthy R&B overtones.
The LP gets going with a highly charged rendition of McLaughlin’s “Marbles,” on which Santana shines, as does Neal Schon, also a formidable guitarist and more than a match for Carlos’ own super string theory. It segues into Miles’ “Lava,” where for over two intense minutes the band unleashes enough energy to light up a whole town. “Evil Ways” gets a major funk-fusion makeover, as does the R&B classic “Them Changes,” a Miles original first aired on The Band Of Gypsys album a couple years earlier. Certainly this version has far more verve to it, thanks to all the percussion, guitars and keyboards, but Hendrix devotees will no doubt remain faithful to the original. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the ghost of Jimi still can’t be heard throughout.
The whole of side two is taken up by “Free Form Funkafide Filth,” which is exactly as the title suggests, basically a professionally played but pot-fuelled high-as-a-kite jam session, the sort that many young people in those days didn’t mind as they were relaxing on the grass (no pun intended, seriously). Being a jam, it doesn’t really go anywhere, since everyone on the stage are pretty much making it up as they’re going along, feeding off each other’s ideas. The percussionist creates a rhythm, Neil Schon tosses off a few licks which inspires Santana to burst into a brief solo here and there, while the flautist lingers in the air as flautists often do. Truth be told, the whole thing, all 24 minutes of it, is a musical mess, a shambolic stoned-as-hell funkafide journey that would probably bore most listeners to tears. And I wish I had of been there.
The ‘60s and ‘70s was a time when music festivals occurred outdoors, mostly in natural environments, which meant that things weren’t quite as organised as they are nowadays, where some entrepreneur could have turned up with a truck load of toilet paper and bottled water and made a fortune. Nowadays it’s the corporations who run the show, and that is what this seemingly ancient document seems to be saying. Because a lot of music in those days was far more organic, and seemingly less calculated, which makes me out to be old fashioned, I know, but tell me, why are so many young musicians of today copying the old masters?
Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live! is a vivacious document of a period that will never be repeated. Any fan of both artists won’t be disappointed with this superb albeit relatively obscure release.