SANTANA — Santana (review)

SANTANA — Santana album cover Album · 1969 · Latin Rock/Soul Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
When I think of the music of the late 60s I think of the musicians and bands of that wild era as being like chemists in that they were experimenting and mixing rock and roll with every style known to man and coming up with new hybrids right and left. By 1969 one of the only genres left untapped was the spicy influence of the countries lying south of the continental United States. But even then there were some clever scientists in the lab working on changing that oversight. Introduce the obscure group Santana onto the biggest live showcase of the century and you have an instant phenomenon. The opening of "Waiting" gives you the impression of an approaching stampede and soon the group explodes into a fiery instrumental that quickly surrounds you with this new sound. You get a short dose of growling Hammond organ, biting guitar and a torrent of congas to get your heart racing before they slip into the classic "Evil Ways" that took even stodgy AM radio by storm. To this day it's still a great track with Gregg Rolie's sly organ solo and Carlos Santana's burning guitar. It was a much-needed uptempo hit song in the midst of a strange and tumultuous year. "Shades of Time" contains shades of Tejano phrasing and also displays Carlos' more delicate fingering on his lead. "Savor" is a feverishly paced instrumental that declares to us the mastery of Mike Carabello and Jose Chepito Areas as they literally tear it up on timbales and congas. Rolie's percussive organ taps add a hot flavor to the song, as well. "Jingo" is another perfect example of the mature attitude of the band. The vocals are just a group chant here as they put emphasis on melody first, then they have the patience to allow the infectious rhythm to rule without interruption. "Persuasion" is just pure rock from start to finish. "Treat" is a needed changeup. It begins with some scat piano, then segues into a faster "Evil Ways" progression before dropping back down to the sultry piano again. "You Just Don't Care" is a prime model of the unmistakable San Francisco blues sound that surrounded the band during their conception. Unfortunately it reveals Rolie's limitations as a singer but Carlos' fierce guitar more than makes up for it. "Soul Sacrifice" is an epic and the very essence of Santana. Much, much more than just a jam session, it features the structured melodies and dynamic accents that would separate them from the madding crowd of pretenders. The young Michael Shrieve finally gets to shine in a short drum solo before they climax with a definitive rock concert ending that leaves you breathless. This version is just as exciting as their spellbinding performance on the Woodstock soundtrack.

If there's any downside to this classic it's that there's not a lot of variance of tones here. And that's probably because the execs at Columbia wanted to seize the momentum they had created and get them into the studio ASAP. It sounds like the engineers never moved a microphone and just let the band cut the tracks one after another and that's no crime. It gives the album an authenticity and unenhanced quality that makes it very refreshing and real. Combine all that with one of the best album covers ever and you've got yourself a remarkable debut. Primitive but quality jazz/rock fusion? Very much so.

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