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SANTANA: ABRAXAS


Reviewed by DAVE FRANKLIN


Today Carlos Santana is one of those iconic guitar players that everyone claims to be a fan of but of whom few really have been. With his recent collaborations with the bright young things of pop and rock, he has gained a new found respect amongst the wine bar and yuppie so-called fans, the same sort of people who listen to Simply Red or Level 42. Not that I have anything seriously against these aforementioned bands, I just want to put his place in the current scheme of things in perspective. Also, not to take anything away from the man himself, he remains one of the finest latin musicians of all time but, as with the way of life, as you get older you settle for the easier options and don't have to try so hard to make your music work for you.

Abraxas on the other hand is the product of a different Carlos Santana, his band were then at the cutting edge of the hippie end of rock and were blending rhythms from the standard rock and psychedelic forms from San Francisco with the latin and jazz sounds from his formative years in Mexico.

The album cover alone gives a small insight into what you are about to receive: a pastiche of images, places and faces, a spread of south of the border imagery in brash colours, a mix of sexuality and faith, celebration and penance, with a small suggestion of the drug-fuelled flavour of the times.

This album surfaced from the west coast of America in 1970. The scene had already seen some new directions: The Doors had pushed the boundaries of excess and sexuality to self destruction, whilst Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead had taken the rollercoaster ride through drug abuse. The people were not easily impressed, every thing had been done, or so it seemed, and then Abraxas. Following the equally magnificent debut album, Lion, Santana blew everyone's mind with the new sounds that he was creating and ensured his entry in the book of rock and roll history.

The intro, Singing Winds/Crying Beasts starts with a dark piano stabbing menacingly, the percussion builds before a haunting guitar cuts through the atmosphere; this is the sound track to a voodoo ritual. The congas build and your soul sways to the beat, the tension builds before you find yourself in more familiar territory. You recognise the tune but the salsa rythyms and conga driven beat keeps you guessing the identity until the last minute.

Peter Green's Black Magic Woman, is given the Santana treatment, and no matter how much you like the original, there is no denying that this is one of the classic remakes of all time. The song oozes along a mix of soul and rock until it builds into an instrumental rock out.

By contrast the next song is a different approach on the whole latin rock experience. Whereas what has come so far is rock with a latin vibe, Ome Como Va, is pure latin jazz. Greg Rolie's Hammond organ and a thumping drum beat drive the song along, with Santana's guitar lying on top providing the icing on the cake. The two lead players show that they have a fine understanding of the cultures they are blending together here.

The piano kicks off again over a mad percussion beat to be joined by a slab of rock guitar and Incident at Neshabur is underway. Darker than what has gone before, the guitar work finally lifting a melody out of the building rythyms, the accents and time changes encapsulating the progressive nature of rock music of the time. Se a Cabo is up and running before you know it, Hammond to the fore, guitar powering out in the background and a heavy backbeat filling the sound.

Almost an instrumental, like many of the songs here, the sweeping dynamics keep you on your toes until it comes to an unexpected halt. Mother's Daughter charges in with full on rock attitude, only to mellow slightly to allow Greg Rolie to provide the vocal lines, before powering off again every time there is a break. This is the most standard rock song on the album, and is still breathtakingly inspirational and original.

The most famous piece on the album is Samba Pa Ti, a great song in itself, but one that has been used so many times for sound tracks and commercials that it is one of those songs that you know but don't know why. A latin jazz salsa shuffle with some exceptional guitar work this instrumental track is a classic in every sense of the word. Rolie and Santana entwine guitar and Hammond on Hope You're Feeling Better, vocals find just enough space between the soaring guitar riffs and the wash of organ.

The album closes with a mad tribal chant over percussion, acoustic guitar filling in what little gaps are left, and rounding off the album with something a little different.

Considering that this album is thirty-four years old, it is still groundbreaking compared to the music from that day to this. If you like what Santana is up to today, then you should experience him and his band when they were still hungry, young and driven musicians. The album not only contains a blend of rock and latin sounds, but has a spiritual quality that seems to be lacking in music today.