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Santana - Abraxas CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.24 | 540 ratings

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4 stars Being more of a Euro-Symphonic snob in my wayward youth, I (foolishly) allowed the music of Santana to sail right over my clueless head back in the 1970s. Maybe it was the fact that they were a more or less local band to this San Francisco Bay area native, and thus flew too low under my Anglophilic radar. Or maybe it was the saturation airplay of the top ten single "Black Magic Woman" on every AM radio in the known universe at the time: a guaranteed turn-off to any discriminating Proghead.

Catching up with the band's sophomore album after more than forty (!) years, and kicking my own tardy butt in the process, I'm surprised at how easily misled I was by its popularity. The more accessible hits like "Oye Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman" need to be heard in the proper context, alongside the strictly instrumental psychedelic salsa elsewhere on the album.

Between the actual songs is a higher ratio of jamming than expected, from the aptly-titled curtain raiser "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts" to the evocative slow dance of "Samba Pa Ti", and finally to the unadorned Latin American percussion epilogue "El Nicoya". All of it is propelled by a spicy combination of congas and timbales, with a healthy dose of old-school Hammond organ and electric piano. And, of course, the fluid lead guitar of Carlos Santana himself, one of the quintessential players of his time.

In retrospect the achievement of "Abraxas" was its perfect synthesis of late '60s psychedelic rock with south-of-the-border musical traditions, showing a different sort of fusion than the usual Jazz-Rock and Classical-Rock hybrids then in vogue. It's a combination that must have been exciting in 1970, and like any true classic the album has yet to show its age; certainly it doesn't sound like a relic from a bygone era when heard today.

My four-star rating is conservative. The album probably deserves a fifth star for historical significance (if not for colossal sales figures), but the band wouldn't reach the pinnacle of its artistry until the release of the album "Caravanserai" two years later.

(A brief footnote: the eye-popping cover is by Mati Klarwein, who was also responsible for the album artwork of "Bitches Brew" and "Live / Evil", one more example of the acknowledged influence Miles Davis had on the Fusion experiments of Santana. That impressive nude on this particular canvas is meant to represent the Virgin Mary receiving the annunciation, depicted in a manner inconsistent with the Sunday School lessons of my suburban childhood. Further proof, like my ignorance of the album itself, of a too sheltered childhood?)

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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