Blindfold Test – Carlos Santana

[Note: Kenny Burrell’s “Blues for Wes” isn’t on Spotify or Youtube, so I’ve shared the title track from the same album, which is on Youtube.]

This guitar chameleon was taking his first Blindfold Test quite seriously. He sat on the floor of the music room in his home on Mount Tamalpaias, a short drive from San Francisco’s Mission District, where he put together his first Santana Blues Band nearly 20 years ago. His eyes were shut, his body rocking back and forth to the music. He’d laugh softly when he heard something that struck home, or growl a “Yeah.”

The fusion of Latin, blues, and rock that Carlos Santana has pioneered frequently hits people on a gutsy, street level. But the guitarist has recorded over the years with musicians from all across the spectrum, including John McLaughlin, McCoy Tyner, Alice Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter, among others. The Santana band has just released its lastest in a long line of Columbia albums, Beyond Appearances (Columbia 39527), a spirited pop LP produced by Val Garay (Motels, Kim Carnes), but on this day Carlos feels more like talking about the album he’s working on now with Tony Williams, and about some rare Coltrane and Miles tapes he’d been given while on a recent trip to Europe.

The 38-year-old Santana, who has proven to be one of the most resilient and inspiring bandleaders in modern music, was anxious to hear some good music and talk guitarists.

1. Kenny Burrell.
Blues For Wes (from Night Song, Fantasy). Burrell, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Richard Wyands, piano; Freddie Waits, drums.

They even got the drums to sound like Grady Tate. It sounds so close to Wes, it’s incredible. I can’t recognize who’s playing, because he never once plays himself. It’s not Pat Martino. I don’t think it’s Grant Green either. It doesn’t sound like Kenny Burrell. I’ve checked out a lot of his albums, but he didn’t play Kenny Burrell at all. I still give him five stars ’cause he did it so well. The tone, his phrasing, even the enunciation, the language–he had it down. It was a great composition, and definitely sounds like the master, Wes.

2. John Scofield
Filibuster (from Electric Outlet, Gramavision). Scofield, guitars, DMX bass; Steve Jordan, drums; David Sanborn, alto saxophone.

That’s John Scofield, right? It’s his tone, and the way he’s been writing lately with Miles. Like the layman’s ear. I tend to get lost when people start too much noodle-roni, or too much improvisation without theme. But his playing lately has gotten infinitely more thematic and more melodic, and to me it’s great because it keeps my attention much more closely. It’s that old saying, “It’s more fun to improvise than it is to listen to it,” and that’s a fact, unless you’re close to that other galaxy of Charlie Parker and Trane and people like that. But I think the song is really positive, and it’s a really good groove. Four stars. That’s David Sanborn, right?

3. King Crimson
Discipline (from Discipline, Warner Bros.). Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, guitars; Tony Levin, bass; Bill Bruford, drums.

I’m having problems relating to Fripp’s music for some reason, I guess because I don’t hear too much blues. I hear a lot of intellect, and I’m not too keen on that, or receptive, and it’s probably my fault because I know the guy is brilliant. But I have to be sincere. A lot of it doesn’t reach me. I’d rather hear one note that is just coated with the stuff that I need to hear than calisthenics or whatever. I don’t want to sound too negative; at the same time it’s something that I’m just not receptive to yet. Some things I can claim immediately, other things take me awhile–because it’s a blessing or a curse, but I come from the blues, basically. But I know the guy is important. Actually I need some lessons from him, which would be great. I need to know a lot of the stuff that he and Adrian Belew and Andy Summers do.

4. Larry Coryell.
Rene’s Theme (from SPACES, Vanguard). Coryell, John
McLaughlin, guitars.

I just about wore this record out. This is a classic piece, I think from Spaces. When I first heard it, it became very scary how much chops these people had, and how much dexterity. It’s a setting like Django
Reinhardt. It’s extremely beautiful how both of them play. I miss Larry Coryell a lot. At one time they said he was one of the most important guitar players to come along since Charlie Christian, and it’s true. In this particular session there’s a lot of magic happening between him and john. Obviously there’s a lot of respect. I’m going to start checking him out again.

5. James Blood Ulmer
(from ODYSSEY, Columbia). Ulmer, guitar;
Warren Benbow, drums; Charles Burnham, violin.

That sounds like something from Ornette Coleman, that kind of river. James Blood Ulmer. Sometimes I can get a little bit disinterested in this kind of music, but this one’s really good. It sounds like something you could play live and definitely capture peoples’ ears—they’re not
going to, go out and get a hot dog or something. It sounds like something Jimi [Hendrix] used to do also, once he started getting too spacey or cosmic and wanted to just have fun with the stuff. Yeah, it’s a really good expression, the composition and everything. To me it would be a four-and-a-half, because I would definitely play something like this live—or try.

6. Howard Roberts
O Barquinho ( from GUILTY, Capitol). Roberts, guitar;
Dave Grusin, organ; John Guerin, drums; Chuck
Berghofer, bass.

He’s playing his butt off in there, man. Howard Roberts, really? His playing here is more soulful than other things I’ve heard from him—as far as the approach and everything. Not that he’s not soulful, but in this one he’s really playing from his heart of hearts. That was an era that I would get confused. I’d have to listen really closely between Tal Farlow, Pat Martino, Grant Green, even Kenny for awhile. Howard Roberts is really a surprise. Composition-wise, about three-and-a-half or four. His playing is fantastic. He really got a chance to stretch in
between the theme. I’ve got to start listening closely again to this guy.

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