Tribute records are well-intended and fun to conceive, but with so many out there at this point, it’s almost as though you’re slighted if one hasn’t been dedicated to you. Tone Center’s previous guitar tributes to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Steely Dan summoned so many of the same guitarists, you’ve got to wonder if Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, Mike Stern, Frank Gambale, and Eric Johnson are thinking, “Where’s my tribute?”
Those CDs and this one, paying homage to Carlos Santana, were the brainchild of producer Jeff Richman, who also contributes his own track on each. As a quick glance reveals, he tends to dip into the fusion pool a lot; in fact, the label has become somewhat of a haven for the “F” word. That reason alone makes the inclusion of Albert Lee here most welcome – and his fresh take on “Samba Pa Ti” proves it was a wise move. He nudges the ballad into a slightly faster tempo, and completely eschews Carlos’s fat tone and mega-sustain, with a Strat-like twang (no doubt his signature model Ernie Ball/Music Man), and stays true to his own identity while tipping his hat to Mr. Santana.
Other guitarists, like Coco Montoya on “Jungle Strut” and Richman himself on “Europa,” feel more obliged to snare Santana’s tone – or at least attempt to. Ironically, even with the heavyweights that serve as a backing band on all tracks (drummer Dave Weckl, bassist Abe Laboriel, keyboardist Peter Wolf, and percussion Luis Conte), the producer’s offering sounds a bit home-studioey.
Vinnie Moore dials in a bit more distortion and adds a tasteful metal attitude to “Se A Cabo,” and Ford injects some nice Albert Collins string popping to “Blues For El Salvador.” But, like Lee, the most successful tracks are those that come from a completely different direction, like jazz great Pat Martino’s warm-toned, understated reading of “Moonflower.”
There’s talk of a Jeff Beck tribute coming down the pike next, and one can’t help but assume it’ll lean towards the “Freeway Jam” years more than “Train Kept A-Rollin'” or “Jeff’s Boogie.” But let’s wait and see.
This article originally appeared in VG’s Aug. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.