Classic Rock Review

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Santana III (1971)


Score! This is actually where Carlos as we know and love him finally arrives. Maybe something clicked, and instead of being based on Rolie’s organ leads, the album finally lets Mr Guitar God take the ninety-nine percent of the cake. Melody-wise, this is not a big improvement over Abraxas, maybe even a retread – very few vocal tunes, just jams, jams and jams. But hey, this might not be a bad thing if we consider that Santana were never a terrific songwriting outfit. On the other hand, most of these jams are amazing.

The band, smoothed and tightened by all the years of success and pressure, strolls along like an enormous unstoppable Panzer, and it almost seems as if nothing can go wrong: these guys will keep punching out their infectious rhythms and lightning-speed solos even on their deathbed. And once they establish a firm groove, Carlos takes the lead and sprinkles us with solos the likes of which the American public hadn’t yet seen.

Perhaps if taken on an emotional level, these solos never reach towards the heights the band would achieve on their next album – the pinnacle of Santana’s “spirituality”. Instead, they just rock. In the meaning “rock the house down”. Santana displays the best of his technical achievements here, everything from speed and cunning vibratos to his mastership over the wah-wah pedal and other special effects. One need only take a single listen to the notorious ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture’ to fall under the charm of this record: no better hymn to the famous Haiti-liberating hero could be thought of than this piece of flaming rage and anger miraculously transformed into a sonic experience.

Even more amazing, Rolie actually rises to the challenge – as if he were peacefully sleeping all this time and just awoken out of his slumber by Carlos. So his organ solos on this record are equally engaging – fast, full of energy and power, fluent as hell, and… whatever. God had apparently found the band somewhere in between 1970 and 1971. Anyway, I was speaking of ‘Toussaint’: that solo passage at the end of the record is the most brilliant piece of music that the band had recorded up to that point, and it’s one of those rare pieces of music that carry you away to rock nirvana when you turn up the volume.

I actually find it hard to discuss the record – it’s not all that diverse, just one archi-energetic five-minute explosion after each other, dragging you with it to the depths of headbanging ecstasy; it’s records like these that define the old “rock = drug” cliche. Virtually every lead by Carlos on the album is a minor gem in its own rights, starting from the extended jams like ‘Toussaint’ or ‘Jungle Strut’ and ending with short, economic outbursts on such few vocal tunes as ‘Everybody’s Everything’ and ‘Everything’s Coming Our Way’.

Actually, the best tune after ‘Toussaint’ on here is the spooky ‘No One To Depend On’, with a steady, yet slightly relaxed mid-tempo groove alternating with gritty leads and faster parts and always sticking right to the point – not a second of time is wasted, it’s all either “building up…” or “break out!”

I mean, if there is any significant flaw on the record – and there sure are a few – it’s that it still has traces of Latin genericness. I could easily do without ‘Guajira’, for instance, which doesn’t exactly deserve all of its running time, or that peachy rumba thing that bookmarks the record. They’re not bad at all, and they’re just as danceable and have just as much headbanging power as the first two records, but I already know all that. I’ve had it before. This is why I welcome the following album even more than this one: Caravanserai would be a completely unique experience.

Still, Santana III is as classy as ‘early Santana’ ever gets, and to top it all, we get three bonus tracks on the CD re-issue, all from the band’s live performances at the Fillmore. Two of these (‘Jungle Strut’ and ‘Batuka’) are reprised from the album itself, and a third one (‘Gumbo’) is not as hot on Santana’s lead playing, but is one of the best examples of the Monster Band having a terrific groove together and leaves you desperately gasping for breath. Classic!

March 11, 2013 - Posted by | Santana III |

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