Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 | 12:30 p.m.
Just when you feel you have heard enough guitar solos and don’t need to hear another, you listen as Carlos Santana cuts loose on one of his spiritual, musical forays, and you can’t get enough of the circuitous sound.
George Harrison long ago sang of his guitar gently weeping; Santana fairly floods the stage with sound.
For Santana, the guitar is not so much a music-making instrument as an extension of his soul, a spiritual monitor he wields to communicate with his fellow musicians and worldwide following. He is a universal artist, apt to work and play with collaborators who are superstars from Jamaica (Ziggy Marley) or in a cozy venue in Las Vegas (the drummer Pepe Jimenez of Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns and the Frankie Moreno band).
The House of Blues at Mandalay Bay’s resident headliner, returning for dates Jan. 22 through Feb. 1, is finishing his Latin-flavored album “Corazon,” recorded in Las Vegas and due for release likely by the spring. The end of 2013 is particularly busy for the beloved artist, as he was among this year’s recipients of the 36th annual Kennedy Center Honors for contributions to the arts. He joined opera singer Martina Arroyo; pianist, keyboardist, bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock; pianist, singer and songwriter Billy Joel; and actress Shirley MacLaine at the gala in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8, which is to be broadcast on CBS at 9 p.m. Dec. 29.
Santana says he got a little fired up during the musical tribute to his spirited 45-year career.
“One of the main things for me, there wouldn’t be Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jeff Beck, or all of us, if it wasn’t for Buddy Guy,” Santana said of one of the artists who paid tribute from the stage. “Just the fact that he was there, and he grabbed that guitar, and when he hit that note, I was howling like a wolf, man. Owwww! And the first lady is going, ‘Whoa, man!’ “ Yeah! I don’t care! Louder! Hit it! … Whooo, lordy. That was it for me.”
Santana himself was hitting those notes Saturday, as his fine-tuned backing band (the musicians often clinging to Santana’s artistic impulses as if playing musical crack-the-whip) and he premiered “Corazon” at Arena VFG in Guadalajara.
About 15,000 fans filled the arena and roared through the night Santana brought in Latin stars such as Gloria Estefan, Juanes, ChocQuibTown, Diego Torres, Romeo Santos, Samuel Rosa of the Brazilian band Skank, Fher Olvera of Maná, Niña Pastori and superstar-on-the-rise Miguel. Even at the end of the nearly 3-hour performance, the crowd was up and swaying to an all-star version of “Cielito Lindo,” their collective voices drowning out the sound soaring from the stage.
Estefan and Miguel aside, many of the artists collaborating on “Corazon” are not familiar to fans in the U.S., but Santana is taking a worldly view of the project, which his team is likening to the next-generation “Supernatural,” the 1999 album that supercharged Santana’s career. But “Corazon” is very clearly a nod to Santana’s own heritage.
“I think that America and the rest of the world is not interested in the flavor of the month, but something that is going to stay for a long time,” he said during a news conference — or, rather, an intimate group conversation — hours before the concert. “Everyone from Frank Sinatra to Tony Bennett has sang Latin songs. Since I can remember, the radio has been affected by Latin culture and music, and now more than ever we’re starting to see Latin influence in the movies with role modes who are not like (Tony Montana) in ‘Scarface’ anymore, people who consistently present themselves in a different form than just being dirty and vulgar and selling drugs.”
Santana and his wife, Cindy, have a home in Las Vegas, having moved to the city when he began his first residency here at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel in 2009. He has taken a keen interest in the community, partnering with Andre Agassi to donate instruments to the Agassi Preparatory Academy.
When Santana speaks of his passion for advancing compassion around the world, it is more than just talk — even multilingual talk.
“I think it is important for us to try, in a different way, to be a lot more conscious of our compassion and how we treat each other,” he said. “In the United States, we don’t treat Latinos the way we treat Caucasian people who come from Germany or Canada or England. Here’s the border, we’re right next to each other, but we don’t treat Canadians poorly.”
The guitar legend then dipped into one of his customary name checks.
“I once heard Harry Belafonte making fun, saying, ‘I didn’t come to the United States to take anybody’s job.’ ” Santana said, grinning. “First of all, it’s not even a job for me. It’s a way of life.”
Artistically, Vegas also is Santana’s home, as he has recorded all of “Corazon” at Odds On Records & Studio in Henderson.
“It’s a great place. It’s home now,” he said. “It’s got wonderful acoustics, great ambiance. You can just close your eyes and create music. The flow is great. Nothing is forced.”
Though “Corazon” is certainly of a specific culture, Santana has always felt his art and passion defies borders.
“I identify with Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. I identify with the Champs-Élysées, where all of the streets are connected,” he said. “I am Mexican, and I was born here (in the small city of Autlan, about 150 miles south of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco), but I don’t have that ceiling. I am all the animals in the zoo, including the crocodile. I am all the people from Woodstock who are not here. I don’t represent myself only as myself.”
When Santana is finished with “Corazon,” he plans to begin work on a fascinating album (especially for those nostalgic about classic rock) with some friends and former bandmates.
“We got together for two days already, with Gregg Rolie, Michael Shrieve, Michael Carabello,” Santana said. “The original Santana, we stopped at three. We are looking forward to this spring and doing Santana IV. After this incredible CD (“Corazon”), I will be with them, totally and absolutely.”
Santana has plans to play Dubai in February, and there are no scheduled dates at House of Blues beyond Feb. 1. Because of his recording commitments, it’s likely the earliest he would be back onstage in Las Vegas would be the fall of 2014.
But whenever it is, the timing and mood will be right. Carlos Santana will make sure of that.