Supergroup pairings rarely work. Either there are too many egos involved or the magic promised on paper doesn’t materialize because there are too many cooks in the kitchen, or record label and managerial bluster get in the way of actual spontaneity. That's not the case with Power of Peace, delivered by the Santana and Isley families in a Las Vegas studio without prior rehearsal.
The material on this 13-song set is comprised mostly of iconic soul, funk, blues, and R&B covers. Carlos Santana and Ron Isley are joined by drummer Cindy Blackman Santana and Ernie Isley, the Santana road band, and a backing chorus of Kandy and Tracy Isley as well as Kimberley Johnson and Eddie Levert. "Are You Ready," the first of two Chambers Brothers tunes, opens the set with a Karl Perazzo conga workout followed by a funky bassline and Ernie on manic wah-wah guitar. Cindy's breaks and Carlos' leads push Ron to overdriven rock intensity with the backing chorus supports. It's a hard groover that introduces a rocking soul rave-up on Swamp Dogg's "Total Destruction to Your Mind." The pairing of Ron and Carlos here is fantastic. If it doesn’t get you on your feet, you're already dead. Things get more intense on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" with Ernie evoking Jimi Hendrix's spirit in his fills and solo, while Cindy's drumming and Perazzo's whomping congas push it into the red. Eddie Kendricks' burner "Body Talk" gets the same treatment. There are some ballads here, too. Ron delivers a beautiful adaptation of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" with Cindy on backing vocals. Santana's melodic presentation is matched by Ernie's tough blues phrasing. The lone original, "I Remember," is a gorgeous, bittersweet samba written and sung by Cindy; it's the only tune here that retains its restraint throughout (though Carlos is tempted to shred near the end). On Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman," Ron offers his sweetest falsetto amid a humid, atmospheric, Latin soul backdrop. Blues, hard rock, and funk collide in Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You," with Ernie shining in a burning solo. Only the Bacharach-David standard "What the Worlds Needs Now" and Leon Thomas' post-bop "Let the Rain Fall on Me" falter due to overly reverent presentations. That said, the gospelized Latin soul in Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" is a monster. The set closes with a complete reinvention of "Let There Be Peace on Earth," offering a stellar portrait of what the Santana band does well (especially with an ace guitarist like Ernie aboard). Ron, whose voice is undiminished by time, soars above the band and chorus to end it all on a spiritual tip. Power of Peace is loose, but everybody brought their chops to the party. This is what happens when great musicians gather simply to see what happens and enjoy one another's company.