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Santana - Borboletta CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.65 | 204 ratings

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3 stars What the Santana Band had inexplicably contracted during the early 70s could best be diagnosed as Manic Progressive Syndrome, a malady that causes a group to experience extreme highs ("Caravanserai") and seemingly bottomless lows ("Welcome") within the space of one year. While the former album blazed a glorious trail by creating exhilarating combinations of Latin jazz and rock and is now considered one of the greatest ever in that genre, the latter LP was as bland and lifeless as a dead buzzard decomposing on an arid desert floor. With those two extremes in mind, those of us who considered ourselves to be loyal fans had no idea what to expect from "Borboletta." What we got was something in between.

The album starts in a primitive, mystical vein with arrhythmic Brazilian percussion and sound effects provided by Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. But since the group freely utilized highly exotic flavorings on earlier recordings this is not necessarily a bad omen. This brief appetizer called "Spring Manifestations" segues smoothly into "Canto De Los Flores," an instrumental featuring Tom Coster's electric piano that might make you envision canoeing leisurely down a calm rain forest river. Speaking of rain, the first sign of clouds and a tentative step back into tepid "Lite Rock" territory arrives with "Life Is Anew," a mediocre song from Carlos Santana and drummer Michael Shrieve that introduces the vocalizations of Leon Patillo. (Gotta say this much for the guy. His voice is a substantial upgrade from Leon Thomas who was ill suited for Santana's style and only added to the dullness of the previous fiasco.) The song never completely catches fire but it benefits greatly from Coster's stirring organ ride and the long-overdue appearance of Carlos' sumptuous guitar riffs. "Give And Take" is next and FINALLY you get some Santana energy and heat! It's a rockin' tune made even better by the inclusion of some spicy percussion explosions from Armando Peraza's congas and Jose "Chepito" Areas' thrilling timbales. Jules Broussard steps up to add some pizzazz with his tenor saxophone, elevating the whole endeavor.

Unfortunately they can't seem to maintain that lofty altitude as they bring you back down to earth with another MOR sleep-inducer, "One With The Sun." Just as before on "Life Is Anew," for some reason you have to wait until the halfway point in the song before things get moving. Carlos unleashes a fierce guitar solo, Coster injects some piercing keyboards and Shrieve breathes some brimstone from behind his drum kit to keep the tune from putting you under sedation. "Aspirations," the first composition to feature the extraordinary bassist Stanley Clarke, bolts from the gate with Leon Chancler's drums racing at a feverishly fast clip. It seems as if they're about to take you somewhere intriguing but after a few minutes it's disappointingly clear that you're only being led in circles. The chords are constantly changing but there's no discernable melody and Broussard's soprano sax, while wildly emotional, gets too noisy too often to create a memorable ambience. It's a waste of a fine rhythm track if you ask me. Carlos' "Practice What You Preach" has an enticing, bluesy, almost gospel feel at the start as he pours out some soulful guitar licks over a fat Hammond organ churning in the background. But, alas, the band comes meandering in to play yet another easy- listening snooze-fest that fails to provide much of a pulse. "Mirage" follows but it's not much better. They establish a danceable groove at least but Patillo's pop song is just lame.

At this point you might be tempted to abandon all hope of receiving any aural stimulation but all is not lost because the cavalry is on its way (at long last) to rescue the final 15 minutes. "Here and Now" is the first of three interlaced instrumentals that are truly spectacular. After a short free-form beginning a strong rock beat is introduced and the band starts clicking on some sharp accents before jumping into "Flor De Canela" where the tempo revs up another notch or two and Airto Moreira is flat out flying in the jet stream! Clarke's bass stays right with him as the band's dynamics start shooting straight out of the speakers at you. All of this leads directly to the wonderful "Promise of a Fisherman," the album's saving grace. It features a beautiful melody line that strolls in a dreamy half-time over the furiously paced flow of the tune with the percussion sizzling incessantly beneath. Coster shines on the organ once again but this is Carlos' moment in the sun and he delivers a screaming, impassioned performance that even dares to venture into Jimi Hendrix dimensions with some writhing feedback cries and groans. This song is a virtual palace built on prime Santana real estate. I would have hungrily devoured an extra three or four minutes of this spiritualized sublimity but they chose to end things much like they began with Moreira's "Borboletta." It's another weird exploration into the dark recesses of the Amazon jungle with Airto providing spooky medicine man yelps and moans accompanied by tribal snaps, crackles and pops. (For the life of me I don't know why this wasn't a hit single.)

If the group was clinically bipolar on the previous two LPs, this is the Santana band on lithium. (Okay, okay, I'll stop with the metaphors already.) The fact is that "Caravanserai" was the triumphant culmination of almost four years of intense musical growth and phenomenal success. And when the inevitable overhaul of the band came due it meant starting all over at square one and the result was amateurish. "Welcome" was timid and devoid of a unified spirit, necessitating another shakeup of personnel. In that light "Borboletta" should be viewed as a collection of mostly baby steps but it has some dazzling moments that make it a better than average effort and definitely worth a listen. 3.3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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