Sunday, October 10, 2010

Santana (1971)

Santana's third album, like their first, was called simply Santana. As a practical matter, people called it Santana III, and this nickname was formalized with the 2006 reissue, which had Santana III printed on the spine (the 1998 reissue had Santana III printed on a sticker pasted onto the jewel case, but not on the spine). It's a practical move, but it obscures what the repeated eponymity was presumably meant to emphasize: that this was the debut of a new band, just like the first Santana had been.

That's hard to recognize now, because the personnel changes that came after Santana III were so much more drastic than those that came before it, and particularly because they were accompanied by musical changes, which wasn't the case with Santana III. In other words, while this album can claim to be the first by the New Santana Band, it's musically much more appropriate to hear it as the last album by the Woodstock-era Santana band. Which is how it's generally thought of.

The new. For the 1971 album the lineup was augmented by a second guitarist, teenage phenom Neal Schon. This was the age of dual-lead-guitar lineups - Derek & the Dominoes and the Allman Brothers were the obvious precedents here. But Neal wasn't the only addition. Timbalero José Chepito Areas had temporarily left the band due to a brain aneurysm; he recovered in time to play on the album, but in his absence* the band had already recruited a new third percussionist, Coke Escovedo. On the album he's just listed as a session player, but by all accounts he was a member of the band (giving them, count 'em, four percussionists: Escovedo, Areas, Mike Carabello, and Michael Shrieve). (And dig this: Coke's niece is Sheila E., and his brother Alejandro played with Rank and File.)

Add to that significant guest shots by Luis Gasca and the Tower of Power horn section, and you have a significantly expanded Santana on display here. It's most obvious in the expanded instrumental palette. The greasy R&B muscle of "Everybody's Everything" was not what you would have expected from Santana, but once you wrap your head around it, it really works, due as much to the horns as to the explosive guitar work - which is Schon's, not Carlos's.

(That's the one disconcerting thing about the expanded lineup. It's very easy not to notice the difference between Neal's and Carlos's playing. They're using very similar guitar tones (Neal's is a little fuzzier), and Neal is playing very much in Carlos's style, so it can be maddening to try to tell them apart. Listening to live work from the period (see below), it's apparent that they're really not that similar - Carlos has a lot more soul, for lack of a better word, while Neal has more aggression - but on the album they're pretty close.)

The album didn't really have the hits the first two did. Supposedly "No One To Depend On" went Top 20, but you never hear it today. "Everybody's Everything" and "Everything's Coming Our Way" were on the band's first greatest-hits album, the one with the iconic dove cover, but they're so untypical of the band's sound that they didn't make me, for one, curious to hear the album.

All three of those almost-hits are great songs, though. "Everything's Coming Our Way" is shockingly light and poppy at first, but notice how careful the dynamics are, how solid the percussion underpinnings are - it's positively graceful, considering how much energy it contains. "No One To Depend On," meanwhile, is a worthy if neglected successor to "Evil Ways" and "Black Magic Woman" - it's mostly copped from Willie Bobo's "Spanish Grease" (and what little they didn't use in the one song they put into their own "Guajira") but with Santana's by-then-trademark acid-blues sensibility to transform it. It's that sensibility that's still intact on this album, and that would change radically immediately thereafter; that's what makes this the last of a trilogy.

And what a final statement. Finally a studio version of "Toussaint L'Overture," which was in their repertoire long before Neal Schon joined, and which stands as one of their definitive moments. From that samba-battery opening to Carlos's furious opening statement to the way Gregg Rolie's organ interlocks so beautifully with the multiple percussionists. This is the original Santana getting right down to the heart of the matter, the blood and bone of liberation.

That all applies to the album as originally released in 1971. It's been reissued in two different formats since. In 1998 it was remastered and reissued with slightly jejune liner notes by Ben Fong-Torres, and three live tracks from 7/4/71 at the Fillmore West, the fabled Closing of the Fillmore. What the liner notes didn't mention was that two other tracks from that show had been released on Fillmore - The Last Days way back when, and that those weren't included here. It was typical Sony miserliness.

This was rectified in 2006 when they came out with a two-disc reissue. The second disc contained the full (at least that's what they say) 7/4/71 show. This is worth getting even if you already have the 1998 reissue (raises hand). Partly because it's a great show, and includes a very interesting and evidently unique take on Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way," pointing straight at where Santana would head in 1972. And partly because the live recording, unlike the album, keeps Neal consistently in the left channel and Carlos in the right, allowing you to compare their styles.

The 2006 also includes three studio outtakes: "Gumbo," an instrumental very similar to "Jungle Strut" and "Toussaint L'Overture" and a couple of others that made the album (it's also on the live disc); "Folsom Street - One," a one-off studio jam, bluesy and seductive; and "Banbeye," a long percussion-and-chanting number with a little guitar at the very end. It sounds like they might have been planning to add more later, or maybe they were trying to keep it sparse and hypnotic. It has some nice flute, which the reissue fails to credit - kind of like they failed to credit Marcus Malone for existing on the reissue of the first album.

That kind of shoddiness marks all of Sony's treatments of Santana's back catalogue, as far as I can tell. The '98 reissues were decent, but no more, with fairly elementary liner notes and the bare minimum of bonus tracks. The 2006 reissue of III, meanwhile, gets all the tracks right, but includes truly atrocious liner notes by Jim McCarthy, whose prose suffers from the verbal equivalent of roid rage. Most of his sentences simply don't make sense. Like, he has "their inspired music standing the test of time by remaining timeless." Yeah.

*After losing Areas, but before gaining Escovedo, they had none other than Willie Bobo himself (responsible for their first hit, "Evil Ways") sit in on timbales. Watch here. They really ought to have given him a writing credit on "No One To Depend On."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of historical interest -- You can see a clip of Toussaint's last moments in prison from the award-winning new short film "The Last Days of Toussaint L'Ouverture" at This film is the basis for a new feature (not with Danny Glover) that is in development.