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Santana Moonflower (1977)


Review Moonflower is mix of revisited older songs, some new material, and live tracks.

I listened to it first when I was 16 – when the cover “She’s Not There” was in the charts, and now, over 20 years later I still play it regularly. At the time though I was blown away by one particular track-the live rendition of Europa(Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile). You’ll find the original studio recording of Europa on the Amigos album; and a weak and flacid thing it is. Put it this way; I have a “Carlos Santana” guitar tablature book, featuring Europa, and after 6 months I’d managed to play the instrumental note-for-note, just in the same way as played on Amigo’s.

I can forget trying to play it the same way Carlos played in live. I don’t think it can be done, even by a top studio musician.

The live tracks, together with the revisited studio numbers take on a different hue altogether on Moonflower. Wait until the neighbours are out, turn the volume right up and…well, how can I describe it? Prepare to be amazed.

The first thing that hits you is the speed of the numbers – the tempo increases markedly for most of them; nice easy blues/latin tracks become out-and-out heavy rock epics. The second thing that gets you is Carlos’s guitar tone. It’s not the weedy, processed sound you get now (I do wish he had never met Paul Reed Smith!) but rather a deep, huge tone extracted from his Yamaha. The sound produced is huge, and glorious to listen to.

The third thing is the dynamics of Carlos’s playing. With the gain and volume up, feedback is readily available, and he uses it to sustain notes seemingly forever (Europa). Grace notes (and chords!) abound everywhere. He’s eager to solo, almost impatient for the superb Tom Costa to finish his bit. The other musicians contribute just as much – providing a confident base for Santana to go off on wild flights of solo melodies. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen is transformed into a powerful beast with pace and the melodies that the original recording just hinted-at. Let The Children play benefits from a huge increase in well, how can it be put? Joy. That’ll be the word.

Dance Sister Dance has one of the most infectious riffs your likely to hear. I’ll be Waiting has a platinum-pure solo. And Europa? Well, it’s just perfect. Scary (how could someone write and play something that good) hugely melodic, with a sonic landscape that is unforgettable. The contrast with the Amigos version is just ridiculous – the live version is the one to remember, packed full of sustain and feedback and pace – my God pace, with legato passages that are simply incredible.

There’s no other Santana album like Moonflower. It was the perfect combination of a superb band, great songs, both new and old, high production values and of course Carlos at his magical best. I can’t listen to his “recent” material, featuring guests of marketable value but questionable talent. 2005 will apparently see a “Latin-style” Santana album released amongst others. Although the fingers are slower, I’d love to see him ditch the PRS’s and wipe the dust off the old SG2000 and give his newer fans a brief insight into Santana music that could send shivers down your back.

Review If you’re looking for the one Santana album that encompasses all of his talents, this is it. If you’re not familiar with Santana, and are considering his music, this album is it. A collection of live cuts and studio tracks, this album was released right “Amigos”. It was released during a period when Carlos Santana was pursuing some serious spiritual pathways, and the music is the better for it.

The band for the live cuts was one tight group, and, in my opinon, the best collection of musicians Carlos (or Devadip Carlos, as he called himself at the time)has ever assembled. I can not offhand think of another Santana album where the band is so astonishingly enegetic and incredibly tight. The jazz/fusion influence of Tom Coster’s keyboard playing can be felt throughout.

For me, the tracks that particularly stand out are “Europa”, “Transcendance”, and “Soul Sacrifice”. The live version of Europa, with its increaed tempo and careful use of feedback, and the extended jamming near the end, is worth the price of the album. “Transcendance” is a studio cut with an exteded guitar jam that’s fast and sloppy notes here. The live “Soul Sacrifice” is the album’s tour de force, where no ounce of energy is spared. The guitar work is beyond description. The closing power chords rank right up there with the most powerful rock chords ever recorded. As reviewer GLM accurately states, this track will “test your speakers” and “make your ear wax fall out”. It’s tough to listen to this one and not feel pumped afterward, wondering what hit you.

The one drawback to this CD, and it’s a minor one, is that the tracks too frequently alternate between studio and stage. If played right through, the arrangement of the tracks can present too much of a mood change. You can easily overcome this by suitably programming your player. Also, the opening track, Dawn/Go Within, gets cut off way too early. Just as the groove is really picking up and Tom Coster is laying down some great piano chords, the song fades and segues into the live “Carnaval”.

This album says it all for Santana.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Santana Moonflower | | Leave a comment

Santana Moonflower (1977)

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This is the album that should have been called ‘A Period of Transition’. Not that it has anything to do with Van Morrison, but it does have a lot to do with an artist coming to the end of one phase in his career and wondering where the hell to go next. Thinking about it, perhaps ‘Holding Action’ would be a better title, because that is what Moonflower is.

It’s a double. Just under three sides worth of live recordings and just over one side’s worth of new studio cuts (the album’s running order mixes live and studio cuts in a way which, remarkably, highlights the respective strengths of each setting rather than destroying continuity as one might expect). In some respects one has to doubt the wisdom of issuing a package like this at all. After eight years Santana can’t be in the market for many new converts. Dedicated (and rich) fans may already have the live versions of Santana standards contained here on the Lotus, live in Japan, triple-album set. And while the new material will doubtless satisfy the faithful (though they may resent forking out the price of a double-album for it) it is unlikely to ignite the interest of those who have passed Santana by in the past.

The album proves two things. Firstly that while Carlos Santana may be getting old in the tooth by today’s standards, he has lost none of his bite as a stage performer; indeed the performances here go a long way to illustrating that Santana is still one of the most energising and inspiring acts to be heard live – a fact not fully borne out by his recent Crystal Palace performance. And secondly that as far as studio work is concerned the current Santana band are treading water.

Up until now Santana’s career can be divided into three stages: the jugular, ‘barrio’ rock of his first three albums – a unique blend of blood, guts and mind-expanding substances; the more reflective, mystic jazz experimentations of Welcome and Revelations; and, more recently, the tentative return to the hot-blooded latin dance idioms of the early years, tempered with straightahead funk or more sophisticated soul, jazz and/or flamenco styles (as on Amigos and Festival).

The new studio material on Moonflower seems to signal the end of phase three, without really giving any coherent indication of what stage four may be. Of the five new instrumentals, three – ‘Bahia’, ‘Zulu’ and ‘El Morocco’ seem almost perfunctory in application: the sort of subtle yet fiery workouts that Santana could probably perform in his sleep, with guitar and Tom Coster’s keyboards alternating leads while the rest of the band crackle along with customary precision behind them. The remaining two are more interesting. ‘Go Within’ is a surprising tune to find here; a casual, jazzy strut led by Coster’s piano (and, I would guess though my pre-release copy doesn’t specify, written by Coster) in a manner reminiscent of Ramsey Lewis’ ‘Wade In The Water’. ‘Moonflower’, on the other hand has a more familiar ring to it, beign one of those effortless, drifting guitar-led melodies – like ‘Europa’ or ‘Samba Pa Ti’ – that Santana does so well. The beauty of this sort of tune is that in anybody else’s hands it would sound no more than nice – that most damning of adjectives – and possibly banal, but Santana’s playing imbues it with a grace and beauty to seduce the most jaded romantic.

Of the three new vocal cuts, both ‘Transendance’ and ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ fall neatly into territory previously explored on the last album, Festival – tranquil soul ballads, rich and soothing, beautifully sung by Greg Walker, one of the better vocalists in the Santana band’s history. That leaves ‘She’s Not There’, the old Zombies’ hit which lends itself surprisingly well to a sharp, samba-fled treatment, an urgent, buzzing guitar sound underpinning the rather edgy mood of the song.

The live cuts should be familiar to everyone. ‘Carnaval’ and the exultant ‘Let The Children Play’, both from Festival; and old favourites like ‘Black Magic Woman’, ‘Soul Sacrifice’, ‘Gypsy Queen’, ‘Savor’ and ‘Toussaint’. It says something for the enduring quality of Santana’s music (and not a little for this particular band) that after a few years and countless hearings these numbers sound as vital and exhilerating as they ever did. It also says something for the listener’s patience if they can sit through all four sides of the album at once. Santana is a guitarist who can burn his fretboard with a grace, passion and fire which gives him few, if any, peers. His ‘singing’, highly lyrical approach to playing makes him one of only four or five guitarists in rock who’s style could truly be said to be unique. Yet over four sides the distinctive threatens to become the repetitive.

It’s a risk any artist takes with a double album – that under close scrutiny their limitations become as apparent as their strengths. And Santana, it must be said, has his limitations. But who’s scrutinising? He is still one of the most exciting guitarists in the world. And Moonflower will keep you dancing until he decides which direction to strike out in next…

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Santana Moonflower | | Leave a comment

Santana Moonflower (1977)


Actually more interesting than any other Seventies’ album Carlos ever put out since Lotus; tucked in between some of his less compelling pieces, it may easily become lost in the sea of filler, but I’d advise you try to grab it by the goatee and pull it up anyway. This is a double album, half-live, half-studio; the difference from the usual pattern is that the studio and the live stuff are interspersed with each other, which gives the album a rather confused feel but, on the other hand, works better in the ‘assimilating’ aspect.

I suppose, for instance, that dragging out all the studio stuff would only qualify this studio part as a small notch above Festival, but when it’s scattered around and meshed in with the live performances of ‘classics’, it gets a wee bit more intriguing, if not necessarily more melodic or anything.

The live half of this hardly holds a candle to the energy and vigour of Lotus, but at least it doesn’t wear you out like Lotus does. I’d say that the only serious misfire here are the live renditions of three Festival numbers in a row – since the record had just come out, these tracks are performed strictly by-the-book and aren’t all that different from the studio versions. Of course, they do the blistering ‘Jugando’ on there, but they also do the murky ‘Carnaval’, so let’s just shut up on that matter.

Instead, let’s concentrate on ‘Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen’ (great version with great singing) and a reworking of ‘Soul Sacrifice’, done in a slightly more hard-rockin’ and chaotic manner than before, so it’s inferior to the Woodstock version, but it still kicks, and Graham Lear does a great job in taking over Mike Shrieve’s drum solo duties, even if, alas, he’s no Mike Shrieve. Poor Mike Shrieve, where are you?

Throw in a faithful rendition of the ‘dance-prog tune’ ‘Dance Sister Dance’ and a stunning ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture’, and the live performance is as worthy as possible. Oh well, we can’t always get that spark of genius that happened to visit the band during the Lotus performances, but shouldn’t a good word be put in for pure, unhindered professionalism? Good lads. The studio stuff, then, is not tremendously interesting – but at least it’s not such an obvious exercise at selling out as on the previous two albums.

The tracks are relatively diverse, and there’s not even a single generic Latin dance number, although there are a few generic Latin ’emotional’ instrumental ballads like ‘Flor D’Luna’. Can you spell ‘Latin elevator music’? This one’s close, mid-tempo elevator music as opposed to the slow-tempo elevator music of the intro to ‘Europa’ (off Amigos, also unfortunately present in a live version on here).

On the other hand, you get a thoroughly unexpected, excellent cover of the Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’, done tightly, with verve and even featuring Carlos having a little bit of Hendrix-ey guitar fun near the end, unappropriate as it might seem in a Zombies’ cover. But hey! It’s my cover and I’m covering it any way it’s gonna be covered! Plus, ‘Zulu’ is rather gritty and even spooky in places, and ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ is a decent fusion exercise that mostly gets me yawning but I’m just not a fusion kind of guy, you know? I can respect this stuff but it hardly moves me. I’d better stick to mad guitar passages in ‘El Morocco’… oh shit, it also seems to be a fusion piece.

Santana almost sounds like Jeff Beck on there. Or was it Jeff Beck who… nah, wait, all those Beck albums came first, actually. Ah well. I dig fusion as long as it kicks some serious ass, i.e. displays some stunning guitar solos, and this one sure does. Is it just me or does Carlos really let loose on some tracks on here, toying with a bit more distortion and fuzz than he used to before? He sure gets some dirty tones on here – he always used to play clean. But maybe it’s just my superstition, and anyway, he’s not Mr Tony Iommi to really play all those ‘dirty’ notes. He’s Mr Clean-Cut Carlos Santana.

My biggest question about the album, though, concerns the lyrics of ‘Transcendence’: ‘Hello I’m back again/To share with you/My heart and soul/Are you surprised? I said I would/So here I am’. Yeah, sounds like a love song, but isn’t this some kind of a message? “You thought I sold out, well I did, but now I sold in”. The song is very good, by the way, deceivingly starting out as yet another adult contemporary piece of pap, but then cleaning itself up with a beautiful solo and speeding up later… with a second beautiful solo. Hmph. Oh yeah.

Moonflower is tremendously inconsistent, but it’s rather good than bad, and although I’d never agree with Wilson & Alroy that this might be the only Santana you’ll ever need (simply because if you’re gonna buy one Santana album, it should necessarily be an album featuring the classic Santana, not the ‘New Santana Band’), it’s still a worthy and serious effort. Definitely worth buying as a super-expensive Japanese gold edition import with 25-th anniversary special rare bonus track attached for extra price. Classic.

Sure beats out late period Beach Boys, if I might make a particularly painful and completely unnecessary reference.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Santana Moonflower | | Leave a comment