Jeff Richman does it again. After producing guitar tributes to John Coltrane, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, and Steely Dan, Richman serves up the music of Carlos Santana for his latest project. Viva Carlos! (Tone Center) is probably the most interesting tribute Richman has produced so far. The rich Latin rhythms give this collection a completely different vibe than the previous tributes. As a result, the guest guitarists who appear on the album are playing in musical situations they don’t normally explore. The backup band this time features Abe Laboriel – bass, Dave Weckl – drums, Luis Conte – percussion, Peter Wolf – keys, and Richman himself on rhythm guitar.
Most of the guest guitarists have appeared on past Richman tributes. Part of what makes this collection so interesting, however, are the new players Richman enlists this time around. Vinnie Moore makes his first appearance on a Richman tribute album, and hopefully it won’t be his last. Moore’s track Se A Cabo opens the album, and he sounds fantastic on this tune. Moore really brings the shred to this release; his crazy-fast legato runs and picking never sound out-of-place, and his aggressive vibrato and high-gain tone work very well here.
Another first-timer that really fits in well is Eric Gales on Jingo. Gales’ bluesy style and heavy tone make this the most powerful tune on the album. Gales sounds great navigating the new key changes provided by Richman’s arrangement as well. What a great track.
Country/bluegrass legend Albert Lee appears on Samba Pa Ti. When I first read that Lee would appear on this album, I thought he was an unusual choice for a Santana tribute. As great as Lee is, I didn’t think he would fit in here. I was wrong. His crisp clean lines sound perfect on this tune.
Some Richman tribute veterans turn in nice performances as well – Mike Stern’s hip lines and a fresh 7/4 arrangement from Richman breath new life into the classic Oye Como Va. Robben Ford sounds great on Blues For Salvador; he’s the perfect choice for this song. One of the best performances on the album is by Frank Gambale on Samba De Sausalito. His solo builds in intensity at it goes on, and he even throws in a classic Santana rapid-fire triplet lick for good measure. Eric Johnson plays well, if a bit tentatively, on Aqua Marine. Richman himself takes a turn on Europa, and plays some great lines. As is the case with many of the other performances here, he solos with a harmonic sophistication that outweighs what Santana himself might play.
Overall, this is another fine tribute project from Richman and the Tone Center label. Definitely worth picking up.