Classic Rock Review

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Santana Abraxas (1970)


Aaaahh, the days when bands were so productive that you knew what to buy your loved ones each Christmas Day. Abraxas – the name was copped from Herman Hesse’s Demian – was released a year after the eponymous debut and basically continues in the same vein as its predecessor. However, this impression results more from the fact that the band’s sound was so unique and convincing, and not because they didn’t evolve. No other band sounded like Santana at the time (and yes – no band ever sounded like them since), and no guitar player has ever succeeded in successfully imitating Carlos’ stellar guitar playing.

After many listens, it becomes clear that Abraxas digs deeper than Santana, offers a bit more variation and contains more substantial material, as some of the early material was obviously the result of many hours of jamming. For some reason the band wasn’t that pleased with the sonic quality of the debut and spent much more time and money on recording Abraxas and it is noticeable as it sounds absolutely immaculate, organic and warm, with enough muscle and attention for detail. Just crank up the volume during “Se a Cabo” and listen to the percussion, check out how it exploits the potential of stereo, how it jumps into your living room, targets your hips.

The music is – if possible – even classier than before: sensual percussion and exotic grooves, nicely flowing organ parts, swirling guitar work-outs that sound like the psychedelic/bluesy counterparts of John McLaughlin’s spiritual fusion. From the exotic mood piece that opens the album (check out the feverish organ-parts and creepy guitar effects) to the arousing dittie that closes the album, Abraxas is, as the album cover suggests, an exotic fusion of the sensual and the spiritual, of mind and body, primal beats and refined playing. It’s exactly this combination that makes many fusion bands out there quite boring and clumsy, but this band got away with it, as the sincerity speaks for itself and relentless creativity keeps it focused. It’s quite stunning that the album managed to keep such a great flow intact, as no less than four band members contribute songs.

The marvellous album highlight “Incident at Neshabur” was written by Carlos and blues pianist Albert Gianquinto and seems to include nearly every facet of this band: there’s some red-hot percussion action, jazzy soloing by Carlos which takes ’em closer to the Mahavishnu than ever before and when the song suddenly transforms into a moody laidback vibe, you’re – as the liner notes suggest – suddenly damn close to Burt Bacharach’s orchestrated lounge-pop. The other Santana-composition, and the one you’re likely familiar with, is “Samba Pa Ti.” Hated by some (I have a friend who insists on calling it “Samba Paté”), loved by others, it’s the band at its smoothest, with vaseline-soft guitar playing by Carlos and subtle backing by the rest of the band. Usually these songs that are fondly remembered by 40-50-somethings (“Do you remember that was the first time you kissed me, Robert?” – “Yes, I do” answers Robert as his eyes don’t leave the TV-screen for a second,… it’s the Super Bowl!) are nothing much to speak of, but in this case I’ll make an exception: it’s downright pretty and even sexy, in a way.

Percussionist Jose Areas also adds two contributions: the short album closer (“El Nicoya) and the more traditional sounding “Se a Cabo,” a fierce combination of salsa heat and rock energy. As opposed to those, Rollie adds the more rock-oriented songs to the album: “Mother’s Daughter” and “Hope You’re Feeling Better,” with especially the latter sounding powerful, driven by a tough riff and topped off by some exquisite soloing. However, ultimately it’s the covers that made people by this album in the first place, as the Santanasation of Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” peaked at #4 in the charts and probably became the most familiar version of the song (even with the “Gypsy Queen”-part tagged to the end). “Oye Como Va” functions as this album’s “Evil Ways” – a combination of the familiar (rock tradition) and the unknown (exotic sounds) that appeals to the audiences of both.

By many considered to be the absolute peak of Santana (the band), Abraxas still stands as the band’s most accessible, and perhaps most innovative record, one that can easily compete with most “classics” from its era.

March 18, 2013 - Posted by | Santana Abraxas |

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