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Santana - Moonflower CD (album) cover

MOONFLOWER

Santana

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.81 | 77 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Say what you may about Carlos and his cronies. Like them or not, they're unquestionably one of the most unique bands in the world. No one combines Afro-Latin rhythms, Central/South American melodic sensitivities and top shelf jazz/rock fusion like they do and few try. They set the bar so high that even poor imitations are hard to find. But what attracts me to Santana more than anything else is their fire. Their unbridled passion. Their amazing energy. You know, the stuff that can't be faked. All of which is in full, glorious bloom on "Moonflower." I can't say those things about all their albums, but most of them. For example, how they could follow up their incredible, ground-breaking, earth- shaking "Caravanserai" with the flat, insipid waste-of-time that was "Welcome" is baffling and almost unforgivable. Yet that was just a glitch. All in all their impressive catalogue of work is fairly consistent and if all a progster knows about them is to be found on their greatest hits CD then that person is missing out on a lot of great, challenging music. In which case this collection of live and studio cuts will give the neophyte both an education and a new perspective on why Santana is so popular and revered well after over four decades have passed since their inception in 1967. On the other hand, if you're a fan and, like me, didn't bother to snap up a copy of this record for whatever cockeyed reason I urge you to put this one at the apex of your "to buy" list today. There's not a bad track on it and it'll remind you of why you were attracted to them in the first place.

I must admit that the intro for the first song, "Dawn," frightened the feces out of me because I thought for a moment that they were about to break into "I Will Survive," something that I wouldn't have. Thank God they didn't. It's just a fake-out. They mesh this odd little Tom Coster instrumental with Devadip Carlos Santana's "Go Within" to create a short piece of contemporary jazz that sounds suspiciously like a backing track that never got its vocal recorded. Tom's Ramsey Lewis-ish piano injections keep it from floundering but it's still the runt of the litter and they shouldn't have opened the album with it. It's misleading. All is forgiven in a heartbeat, however. What follows is a spirited three-song medley taped live and my initial reaction was "Oh, yeah, now you're talkin'!" as the broiling percussion of Jose "Chepito" Areas, Pablo Tellez and Raul Rekow sparks the group and the audience as if they ignited the fuse on a stick of dynamite. This leads to the speedy rock samba of "Carnaval" wherein Coster's synth ride slices like a scalpel, a showcase of Devadip's melodious guitar lines and an infectious group refrain on "Let the Children Play," and then a cool blending-in of the no habla englais chanting of "Jugando" with Tom's sizzling Hammond organ solo serving as the capper. A hard rock riff accompanied by some out-of- this-plane-of-existence percussion evolves into a furious jam featuring Coster as he slays all in attendance with his blistering ARP lead and Devadip chars a permanent spot on the stage floor. At one point either Tom or Carlos summons an awesome, screeching yelp out of their instrument akin to a bobcat-with-its-tail-clamped-in-a-bear-trap's wail that'll make your hair stiffen, salute and stand at attention. Yowza!

Next up is a bit of a breather by the name of "I'll Be Waiting," a smooth, AOR number with a fine vocal provided by Greg Walker, one of the better warblers this combo has led to the mike stand. The song won't change your life but it makes for pleasant listening and Carlos takes the opportunity to show that he has a lighter but no less talented touch on the fretboard toward the end. "Zulu" has a proggy, glistening intro provided by Tommy Coster Jr.'s enlightened piano but this instrumental soon escalates into a specimen of intense funk fusion wherein bassist David Margen impresses and Pete Escovedo takes out his frustrations on his hapless timbales. "Bahia" is a brief but grand instrumental filled with flashy Liberace-like piano flourishes and penetrating percussion staccatos. The in-concert version of "Black Magic Woman" comes next and let me say this about it. There are hordes of groups out there who trot out their hits with all the enthusiasm of kissing their wrinkled, moldy grandmother on the lips (you know who you are) but that doesn't apply here. Santana's faithfully-played-but-at-100-miles-per-hour rendition has astounding electricity and Devadip attacks his guitar as if he's playing to save his soul. And when they slip into Gabor Szabo's "Gypsy Queen" they set the arena ablaze. It's mighty mighty. "Dance Sister Dance," also live, is a joyous antidote for sour moods. Carlos' guitar work is ferocious (his deft use of feedback blinds like a laser beam) and Tom does a bang-up job of channeling Chick Corea on the synthesizer all the way up to the tight-as-pyramid-blocks ending.

Devadip's performance of his signature instrumental "Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile)" contains more passion than an afternoon of soap operas and his utilization of multiple guitar tones shows that this boy's not just some one-trick pony. Santana scored yet another Top 40 single with their inventive re-arranging of the classic "She's Not There," due in no small part to the strong dynamics they adorned it with, not to mention Carlos' scorching guitar effect and Escovedo's hot timbale spasms. This is how to do a cover right! "Flor D'Luna" is a romantic instrumental with a dreamy groove and depth of field that doesn't abandon their South American roots. One thing to keep in mind with the live tracks is that they were all recorded in front of throngs of palefaces in Germany, France and England so it's not like they were partying with their Chicano homies in the Barrio. They weren't earning free brownie points through shared ethnicity, if you catch my drift, thus they had to work hard for their harvest. And work they did. The vigorous, aggressive attitude they bring to "Soul Sacrifice" from their debut LP is mind-blowing. First they rev up the tempo and then the percussion section manned by Areas, Tellez and Rekow literally rattles terra firma below. Graham Lear's drum solo is so extraordinary that they gave it the title of "Head, Hands & Feet" (What else could he use? His WHAT? Ooo. That'd leave a mark.) so he could collect royalties from it. Devadip's ride is as wild as a free-range filly and Tom tears into his Hammond organ with a vengeance before they enter a serene "bring it down" section that is transcendent via some calming, airy synth strings. They then proceed to build it back up and toss in a few more tortured bobcat screams on their way to the impossible-to-be-improved-upon climactic ending that brought the Woodstock nation to its feet on Max Yasgur's farm where their legend began.

"El Morocco" has a dramatic, one note opening that leads to a spirited fusion romp pitting Coster and Carlos in a "top this lick" contest that gets pretty frenzied. It morphs into a Jeff Beckian rocker in the second half and exits in a jazzy flair. Nice going, amigos. "Transcendance" (Not a misspelling. It's a trick.) sports a mysterious onset and then slides into an R&B backdrop for Walker's silky vocals. Tom emits an expressive ARP ride and then they jump into double-time for Devadip's shredding extravaganza before the whole shebang collapses for some soulful riffs from Greg's tonsil cavern. They end with the group on stage again for a performance of "Savor" that storms out of the gate at full gallop with frenetic drums, timbales, and congas in the dust-raising forefront. I've always been a fan of the Hammond organ and Coster gives my hero Brian Augur a run for his money here. A spectacular percussion break follows and all I can say is Holy Maracas, Batman! I LOVE this stuff! They transition seamlessly into "Toussaint L'Overture" for the finale and, while Carlos' doesn't exactly take a nap stage left, Tom once again cranks up his Hemi-powered Hammond and drives it hard, generating the unstoppable inertia of a 40- ton locomotive in the process. Devadip closes the deal with guitar death screams that leave the audience flabbergasted and begging for more.

Still not convinced that Santana's one of the best in all of progdom? Consider this. They're one of the purest groups ever in that they've never once relied on anything but their music. Yes and Pink Floyd had their dazzling stage shows. Genesis and ELP had their eye- boggling lighting effects. Others had charismatic front men or a to-die-for roster of untouchable virtuosos. But Santana was just a band of dedicated musicians giving their all every time the microphones were turned on whether in the isolation of the studio or in the presence of tens of thousands. No gimmicks, just undiluted enthusiasm and raw power sprinkled with an occasional touch of grace. "Moonflower" isn't their best ("Caravanserai" holds that trophy) but it contains everything I adore about these guys and the respected institution they built with their own hands and hearts over long years of commitment to just making good music together. 4.5 stars.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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