Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30: Santana, "Abraxas"

Artist: Santana
Album: Abraxas
Year: 1970
Label: Columbia

Decades before Carlos Santana decided he needed to duet with less talented pop stars, he was making his mark as a true guitar god. As the band leader and namesake behind Santana, he fused latin and tribal percussion, deep melodies, and capped it off with his blistering guitar skills. Santana's sophomore release, 1970's Abraxas, clearly displays just how amazing a band Carlos had assembled.

A quintet of percussionists, a keyboard player, a pianist, bass guitar, and Carlos leading the pack with his six-string give Abraxas unbelievable depth and richness. With his guitar as the lead instrument, Santana was breaking away from the traditional sound that "latin music" had sounded like until that point. However, while Carlos' scorching riffs and solos may be the centerpieces, it is his bass and organ players who deserve the credit for creating and maintaining the deep grooves that the percussionists ride while Carlos peppers them with his guitar.

Moving from glorious, winding river-like jams to slower, blues tunes, to undeniable stadium shakers, Abraxas is so varied and experimental, it in many ways captures the freedom that musicians had during the time period. Nothing on the record seems forced or incomplete, and yet it sounds nothing like Santana's peers (Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, etc). It is mind boggling to thing that such amazing, yet dissimilar sounds could have all emerged from the same place at the same time.

The entire record flows seamlessly from one song into the next, and you truly lose the knowledge of where each individual song begins and ends. Moving from the lush opening soundscape into a latin-jazz cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman" and then sliding into an all out rock jam session, Abraxas, truly promises the listener fascinating musical journey. For the record, the 3rd song, "Oye Como Va" is another was originally recorded by salsa legend Tito Puente...Santana's version is MUCH better!

The San Francisco music scene of the late 60's and early 70's was truly a breeding and testing ground for countless new musical formats. While the city is perhaps best known for spawning the hippie culture and "jam music," Santana should be right alongside in the history books. Bringing together a myriad of sounds and influences and simply "going with the music," the band was able to create a brilliant musical mixture and the incredible results have been saved forever on their album, Abraxas.

Standout tracks: "Incident At Neshabur," "Se A Cabo," and "Mother's Daughter."

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