Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Santana Moonflower (1977)

51j8-c9WSaLFrom Sounds

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 Caravanserai (1972)


Recorded in 1972, Santana’s landmark Caravanserai marks the legendary guitarist’s foray into the jazzier, more adventurous territory that would define his career for the better part of the next two decades. Drawing from Miles Davis’ pioneering period work, Santana ups the musical complexity, ditching vocals on most tracks and embracing moodiness as a form of expression.

Despite its sharp move away from conventional structures, Caravanserai reached the Top 10 of the Billboard charts and attained lavish critical acclaim.

Re-mastered from the original analog master tapes, Caravanserai benefits from Mobile Fidelity’s meticulous engineering, with the windows on the sparse production and the discernible live feel opening up on hybrid SACD with palpable transparency and exquisite detail.

Brimming with atmospheric textures, three-dimensional spaciousness, and freshly uncovered microdynamics, this version follows on the heels of Mobile Fidelity’s definitive, critically acclaimed editions of Santana, Abraxas, and Love Devotion Surrender.

The last Santana effort to feature guitarist Neil Schon and organist Greg Rollie, who would leave and form Journey, Caravanserai also welcomed the arrival of keyboardist/composer Tom Coster, whose impact is immediately felt. Displaying no hints of the discord that would cause the ensemble to splinter after the record’s release, the band seamlessly melds with Santana’s divine jaunts into instrumental nirvana.

And while prior releases spread the wealth, Santana’s role here is evidently clear from the start—this is where he’s elevated from a pioneering star to a guitar god. His guitar effortlessly darts amidst a rich aural canvas, knitted with contributions from a sextet of percussionists as well as Schon’s magisterial efforts.

With Santana, nothing is more important than soulfulness. And the profound spirituality and heartfelt expressiveness that pulse throughout the ten songs here are on par with the most personalized playing and music making he’s ever done. The highly original Caravanserai distinguishes itself from most instrumentally based albums in that its purpose isn’t to tout virtuosic jamming abilities but to take the listener places they’ve never been, and do so in a manner that’s cohesive, focused, and inventive.

Santana delves deeply into jazz’s boundless possibilities without exploiting technique or structure, arriving at sonic intersections where jazz is the main landing spot for soul, Latin, and funk tangents.

Whether it is the deep sound of a saxophone, polyrhythmic beat of a groove, or the intricate bend of Santana’s guitar string, every nuance and note of Caravanserai is heard with supreme detail and clarity on this numbered, limited-edition hybrid SACD.

We guarantee that you’ve never heard this record sound so lively, vivid, or monumental.

March 28, 2013 Posted by | Santana Caravanserai | | Leave a comment

Santana III (1971)


By 1971, Santana had already garnered a lot of success and popularity, much thanks to their performance at the legendary music festival Woodstock. With each album, the band only increased the creativity and quality of their songs. And Santana 3 was no exception. Strengthened by the addition of percussionist Coke Escuvedo (sp?) and Neal Schon, the original Santana line-up made their best and last album at the ultimate height of their fame.

1. Batuka
The album comes to a start with some nice percussion and then a great, great bassline comes thundering in. Then the magical dueling guitars of Santana and Schon take you for a ride. This is a great instrumental opener, full of sweet licks dripping in wah-wah and an amazing rhythm section. 5/5

2. No One to Depend On
Just like on Abraxas, the first track bleeds into the second. In this case, the two work very well together. They are a little similar except this one has vocals. Now, the lyrics or vocals aren’t anything amazing, but this band’s main feature isn’t lyrics, so I don’t care. The bass is great on this track, and the guitar is, well, astonishing. Neal and Carlos duel it out on the guitar solo, which isn’t far from the best ever, in my opinion. Not only can they play great by themselves, but they work together great as a team. They also work great with the percussionists. 5/5

3. Taboo
The mostly happy, upbeat feel of the first two tracks comes to a halt here. This song is very nicely done, because it has a great mood, like a dark swamp at midnight. Kind of difficult to put in words, but this one always gets me. It features some decent lyrics, though, by Gregg Rollie, who does the lead vocals very nicely. The song keeps it’s slow-paced, moody feel until the outro guitar solo, which is beyond earthshattering. It is like a hand grabbing onto your skull saying, hey, wake up, listen to me! Not that the rest of the song is boring or anything, but, man, these solos really wake you up. Overall, a great emotional song. You just can’t beat that. 5/5

4. Toussaint l’ Overture
This is a big fan favorite. Personally I think it’s a good song but sometimes it bores me a little. The big guitar solo at the end usually catches my attention, though. Also has a cool breakdown with some chanting in Spanish. Since the music is top-notch, I can’t give this a bad grade. 4.5/5

5. Everybody’s Everything
Well, this one is sure to change your mind if you think Santana is boring and one-dimensional. Talk about variety! When I first heard this song I thought the radio turned on somehow or the stereo switched CD’s. This song is upbeat, but feels very nice and refreshing after the more melancholy feel of the last two tracks. I’m not a huge fan of horns but there is some excellent horn work on this song, which I think is done by the Tower of Power. You’ll want to get up and dance when you hear this infectious tune. 5/5

6. Guajira
The CD goes back to a deeper melancholy mode when this song starts. Has a very Latin feel to it. Not my favorite on the CD but still manages to stay in my head. Santana and Schon deliver some great solos, so this is a pretty worthwhile cut. 3.5/5

7. Jungle Strut
Starts with a spacey intro. Then a great guitar riff comes in, and the whole band does their thing. Mainly just a “jam” song, but it’s not just “noodling” for over 5 minutes, it contains some very memorable moments and isn’t something you’ll just forget very quickly. One of my favorites on the album. 5/5

8. Everything’s Coming Our Way
Sounds kind of like “Everybody’s Everything”, but with minor chords. I’m not sure who’s doing lead vocals, I think it’s either Carlos or Gregg Rollie with a falsetto. But whoever it is, the vocals are absolutely great. Very emotional. The song also has an organ solo that is really nice. Not that I don’t like the other organ solos, this one just really fits. 5/5

9. Para Los Rumberos
Horn-driven closer that really ends the album perfectly. No organ or guitar solos, just great work as a whole band. A memorable closer to a memorable album. 5/5

Bonus Tracks: The three live bonus tracks are all equally amazing. They are: “Batuka”, “Jungle Strut”, and “Gumbo”. They all get 5/5 because they capture the live energy of the band and don’t drag the album down at all.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Santana III | | Leave a comment

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 | | 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

Santana 1st Album (1969)


It’s kind of sad that most people these days only know Carlos Santana from his latest releases, slick products so obviously obsessed with the lowest common denominator that it almost becomes a joke. It’s not that these successful releases are worthless – far from it – but they can’t hold a candle to the music the band Santana created 35 years ago. Although they were considered part of the Bay Area music scene, the six-piece still stands as a unique unit, one of the most innovative and adventurous of its day. While most other likeminded bands (Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape) sought refuge in psychedelic excess to concoct their merger of influences, Santana was the first band to offer an exciting melting pot of (bluesy) rock, jazz and Latin roots.

The band caused quite fuss when they set the Fillmore on fire in 1968, but the major breakthrough came when the band turned in a now legendary performance at the 1969 Woodstock festival, which took place in the same month this debut was released. The members of the band had white, black and Latino roots, which was all reflected in the music. While Carlos and keyboard player/vocalist Gregg Rollie had obviously been listening to what was happening at the time, they also betrayed a jazz sensibility that – coupled to the percussion work by Jose Chepito Areas and Mike Carabello – resulted into an infectious merger of calculated western structure and Afro-Cuban stress on rhythm.

This is nowhere more applicable than in the album’s centrepiece “Soul Sacrifice,” which basically shows what they were all about at the time. An instrumental with a great, natural flow, it was the first masterstroke in a long series of epics that were showcases for the guitarist’s impossibly stretched notes, Rollie’s sweeping organ lines and the rhythm section’s use of congas and timbales. Whereas the studio version is already ace, it’s simply blown away by the version recorded at Woodstock that’s fortunately included on most editions available. It’s not that it deviates that much from the studio counterpart, but it simply sounds better, more energetic and contains Mike Shrieve’s legendary solo.

The climax of his performance and the moment where the band picks up the main theme again must’ve been one of the festival’s highlights. The majority of the album is less impressive, with the focus less on virtuoso musicianship, but it nevertheless contains some excellent jamming. That’s right, the album’s quite often criticised for being rather weak in the songwriting department – something they would improve upon – but I’m just a sucker for most of these grooves. Opener “Waiting,” for instance, isn’t half as mind-blowing as “Soul Sacrifice,” but the band’s interplay is so goddamn exhilarating. It’s obvious that these people nearly communicated on some paranormal level with each other, not once losing the flow of the song, substituting one restrained solo with another one, never losing sight of the natural rhythm, giving each musician the opportunity to shine. The song’s climax, when Carlos’ stretched notes rejoin the percussion and Shrieve switches to that galloping rhythm, is pure gold.

The album’s greatest hit, the Latin pop of “Evil Ways” is an entirely different matter. It was suggested to them by Bill Graham (the Fillmore dude) who taught them that in order to score, they should come up with something more than just a jam of epic proportions. He was right, as the song – rightfully – became the band’s first hit song. The remaining six songs don’t follow the rigid pop structures, which is why they might sound as rehearsal jams to some people’s ears. In “Shades of Time,” Santana’s guitar tone and jazzy inflections are immediately recognizable, but it’s surely not their best song.

The same goes for “Savor” and second hit “Jingo,” basically two lightweight songs, the first one being a showcase for the Afro-Cuban percussion, the second one more of the same thing with some repetitive vocals added. Apart from Rollie’s passionate vocals and some nifty guitar soloing, I’ve never been a sucker for “You Just Don’t Care,” it must be the whole start/stop-thing. The two tracks left are damn fine though: “Treat” shows the band in a jazzy mood with some impossibly fluent soloing from Carlos, while the straightforward “Persuasion” is entirely dominated by Rollie’s raucous vocals and pumping organ. Santana might have its flaws, but it’s an album that never gets boring, on the strength of the strong overall musicianship. These guys were onto something, and they knew it, and this made them rise above themselves, despite the occasionally slight material.

It’s exactly this genre-bending and liberating atmosphere of discovery and confidence that lies at the core of the album that makes it still so invigorating in 2004.

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Santana 1st Album | | Leave a comment

Santana Abraxas (1970)


There is an essence of allure that exudes from the content of Abraxas. The music is jubilant, with a mesmerizing melody that entices the listener into a sensation of musical ecstasy. We open with “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts”, immediately it induces a trancing atmosphere to set the mood, a seductive ambience decorated in sensual mysticism. And just as the music has us succumbing to its will, when we give up all restrain and let our senses sink deeper and deeper into the trance, all of its arousing teases reach their purpose. It was all just a build up into the album’s highlight, “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”.

This is Carlos Santana and his band exploring all of the possibilities within musical hypnotism. The music of “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” flourishes with sensuality, delicate in nature yet it induces an irresistible magnetism.

As we progress further into Abraxas, we find that it is very versatile within its mood, containing moments of both delicacy and aggressiveness. The music has a very lively texture, amalgamating the rhythmic grooves of traditional Latin music with the enthusiasm for instrumental improvisations that are found in Jazz. “Oye Como Va” marks the beginning of the more elevated side of the album. It has a Salsa like rhythm that gives it a feeling of looseness, almost encouraging the listener to dance to it’s melody.

“Incident at Neshabur” and “Hope You’re Feeling Better” represent the more aggressive side of Abraxas, displaying instrumental eruptions of passionate dexterity from the musicians. “Incident at Neshabur” is a much more elaborate piece because it is composed of two contrasting sections. The song immediately takes us into an invigorated jam, wasting no precious time in properly introducing us to the piece, Abraxas chooses to instead bombard us with a truly dynamic Jazz Fusion display.

Initially presenting itself as wild and eccentric, the music continues to build up momentum as it deploys solo after solo. And then, all of a sudden, “Incident at Neshabur” relinquishes all aspirations of ferociousness and instead flourishes into a mellifluous bossa nova ending. It’s quite marvelous how flawlessly “Incident at Neshabur” was able to pull-off such a surprise in its change of pace, and it really shows just how suspenseful this album can be.

“Hope You’re Feeling Better” is an entirely different kind of breed. This song is one of the few moments that Abraxas gets to be 100% rock and roll. Carlos Santana’s roaring guitar antics are drenched in distortion for added volume and intensity. Keyboardist and vocalist, Gregg Rolie, does a fantastic job augmenting Carlos Santana with his organ ornaments and his awfully bluesy tone of voice. “Hope You’re Feeling Better” is quite frankly one of the finest moments of the album because while all the other songs frequently stand on the boundary of genres so as to easily transcend into another form at a moment’s notice, “Hope You’re Feeling Better” drops all of the experimental tendencies to deliver a traditional, but still as captivating, rock performance.

Abraxas, as a whole, is a truly impressive album because it unionizes many different musical genres. The intensity of Hard rock, the lengthy instrumental passages of Jazz, the melodious dancing elements of Salsa, and even the decorative surrealism of Psychedelia- It is all coalesced with such confidence and precision that even with all of the constant genre-hopping, the album’s transitions all manage to fluctuate so naturally.

In conclusion, Abraxas is a classic. And it will remain as such, forever to be enjoyed by generations to come.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Santana Abraxas | | Leave a comment

Santana Caravanserai (1972)

886978775023From The Guardian

Released in October 1972, `Caravanserai’ marks one of Santana’s highest and most sublime creative moments and has often been described as “music for musicians”. It’s the last of Santana’s studio recordings to feature founder-member Gregg Rolie on keyboards and second-guitarist (the very young but virtuoso) Neal Schon, both of whom were shortly to depart to form `Journey.’ Rolie features on some tracks and new keyboard player Tom Coster appears on others, the start of a decades-long and highly productive association between Coster and Santana.

Founder-member David Brown is replaced on bass by Doug Rauch (on some of the numbers) and Tom Rutley (on others) and the departure of Mike Carabello as conga-percussionist heralded the entry of veteran Armando Peraza – who, I can tell you from seeing this band live in 1973, had one heck of an onstage presence and added a lot to the sound. Drummer Mike Shrieve and percussionist `Chepito’ are still there, both evident in the music.

Altogether `Caravanserai’ showcases contributions by some 16 different musicians and is a masterpiece of arrangement and production; it marks the beginning of a rich and productive journey into deeper, more complex jazz-fusion territory which continued with `Welcome’ and – especially – `Borboletta.’

The trademark rock-salsa fusion sound which made Santana’s first three studio albums a global commercial success gives way here to more thoughtful, jazz-like compositions, though you can hear the genealogy of the Woodstock-era band still there underneath. Of the 10 numbers on the album, only three have any vocal content and the first six pieces (i.e. the first `side’ of the original vinyl LP) flow together as one, with no real breaks.

`Caravanserai’ though impressive on first listening, is not such an instantly-accessible musical listening experience as the first three albums. The band experiments with different time-signatures and instrumentation in complex compositions to weave an engrossing musical tapestry which wins over the head, the heart and the soul where repeat-listening reveals ever more depth and subtlety.

If you like to seek out great music of any era and especially if you have a penchant for jazz-rock fusion and you’ve never heard `Caravanserai’, then you’re in for a rare treat. This mid-1970s period was the high-point of Carlos Santana’s long creative career: here he is in his prime, a master of his craft with experience and global success behind him, but wanting to explore music a bit deeper, maybe with less popular appeal but ultimately more personally satisfying, more valuable and enduring. Put on the headphones, lie back, crank up the volume and be transported to a land rich, beautiful and sublime.

I am BTW writing this in Hatta, close to the UAE/Oman border. As the Sun rises, a herd of wild camels is visible on a distant hill to the South: a real-life spectacle almost identical to the original cover-art of this: Santana’s great, timeless fourth album.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Santana Caravanserai | | Leave a comment

Santana Caravanserai (1972)


After reshuffling their lineup somewhat, Santana entered a new phase. Fully embracing the “fusion” movement first spearheaded by Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this album has a cleaner sound and pursues a more spiritual, jazz-based direction.

Of course, the Latin percussion and Rollie’s moody keyboards are still important, but Carlos dominates the action more than ever before. This is a good thing, for he’s in spectacular form throughout, though the extensive soloing and unwavering intensity of the album can be a bit draining after awhile. Caravanserai is comprised primarily of instrumentals, and songs segue into one another, making it essential to listen to in one sitting.

This was a bold, uncommercial step for the band to take in 1972, and though perhaps the album’s lack of potential hit singles hurt the band commercially, Caravanserai has proved to be an unjustly overlooked minor classic that Santana connoisseurs generally consider to be among his best. Surprisingly, though the album is more reliant on individual soloing than in the past, where the band relied more on explosive ensemble playing, Caravanserai is nevertheless one of Santana’s most rocking albums.

That said, it gets off to a low-key start with “Eternal Caravan Of Reincarnation,” a jazzy mood setter that leads into “Waves Within,” one of several songs that features fantastic fret work from Carlos, again prodded along by Neal Schon. Again, a seamless transition is made into “Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down),” a funky number notable for its wah wah guitar and a standout drum solo from the underrated Michael Shrieve.

“Just In Time To See The Sun” has a hot, simmering groove going for it along with more great guitar, but it is the next two (long) songs, “Song Of The Wind” and “All the Love Of The Universe,” that form the heart of the album. Each is very melodic and includes incredible jamming, but the next three songs are less impressive, though “Future Primitive” does provide a necessary, less substantial break from the unwavering intensity.

“Stone Flower” has more of a pop flavor, though they still find time to jam, while Shrieve is again a standout on “La Fuente del Ritmo” before “Every Step of the Way” finishes the album with a flourish. An at-times jaw droppingly impressive 9+ minute epic, it ends another essential Santana album, arguably the band’s last studio creation that could be labeled as such.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Santana Caravanserai | | Leave a comment

Santana Caravanserai (1972)


Before absorbing the near-unanimous acclaim earned over the years by Santana’s 1972 studio masterpiece, the band had meant little more to me than a ubiquitous presence on the AM radio dial in my high school days during the 1970s. Many decades down the road, I will now officially and in a public forum kick myself in the rump for ignoring too long a superlative musical experience. Older and wiser, so forth and so on…

Jazz-Rock Fusion was of course the hot buzzword in the early ’70s, as spearheaded by such pioneering groups like Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return To Forever, all formed (and not coincidentally) by alumni of the Miles Davis “Bitches Brew” sessions (and likewise all bands that flew beneath my own shortsighted radar at the time).

Carlos Santana never played alongside the legendary jazz trumpeter, but he was certainly a fan. And his eponymous band brought something new and unique to the freshly-set Fusion banquet: a strong sense of Latin rhythm and rock ‘n’ roll intensity, together reaching its highest combined level of expression on the band’s fourth studio effort. From the evocative simplicity of the Near-Eastern cover art to the long, unresolved fade-out of the last, furious jam (with discreet orchestral accompaniment) during “Every Step of the Way”, this is a near perfect recording, and a timeless reminder of what music is meant to be.

It’s also the one Santana album rarely acknowledged in any of the band’s numerous greatest-hit packages and best-of compilations. And for good reason: even with the occasional vocals it still plays like an organic, entirely instrumental concept album, and the songs (to their credit) all lack the top-40 radio airplay appeal of hits like “Evil Ways” and “Black Magic Woman”.

In other words, it’s an album aiming at something higher than simple commercial success. Don’t expect to hear any singing at all until well after the twelve-minute mark, and then just a brief interlude (during “Just In Time To See the Sun”) before the more assured salsa-rock fusion of “Song of the Wind”, featuring some of Santana’s most relaxed yet ecstatic soloing (on an album already overflowing with uncomplicated musical joy).

The entire effort glows with the same, pervasive mood of unforced optimism. Check out some of the track titles (“All the Love in the Universe”: hardly a jukebox-friendly moniker). Note too the relaxed, atonal saxophone intro and near-subliminal layering of acoustic bass and percussive allsorts in “Eternal Caravan of Reincarnation”, so reminiscent, at least to this aging Crimhead, of the chorus to “Formentera Lady”, from the King Crimson album “Islands”, released one year earlier.

Strictly speaking, this album shouldn’t even be considered Jazz, or Rock, or Jazz-Rock. Like the fusions of MILES DAVIS at the time, it resists any easy-fit categorizing, and ought to be heard as nothing more or less than Music, purely and (not always so) simply.

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Santana Caravanserai | | Leave a comment