Santana IV is a canny title for this deja vu. The album reunites most of the Woodstock-’69 Santana – founding guitarist Carlos Santana, drummer Michael Shrieve, singer-organist Gregg Rolie and percussionist Michael Carabello – with guitarist Neal Schon, a teenage prodigy when he joined in time for the third album, 1971’s Santana. That record’s focused advance on conga-fired soul and jazz, cut short by the group’s implosion, is vigorously reprised here. “Love Makes the World Go Round,” with vocal guest Ronald Isley, picks up the street-party charge of “Everybody’s Everything” on the ’71 LP; the instrumental memoir “Fillmore East” and spaced-blues finale “Forgiveness” are authentic modal suspense and late-set ascension.
Schon, who quit Santana in 1973 to start Journey with Rolie, is a matured foil to the elder guitarist, exchanging breaks with his mentor with respectful, muscular challenge. But a standout pleasure is the chance to hear so much of Santana’s own tart-treble tone and soloing union of John Coltrane and Mike Bloomfield against this band’s blues and salsa, without the distracting crush of celebrity duets. The songwriting falls back on familiar moods and grooves – “Leave Me Alone” equals “Evil Ways” on 1969’s Santana – but it’s nostalgia with an edge, reunion as confession. Santana IV is arguably the group’s best lineup admitting they threw it all away, way too soon.