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Santana - Shape Shifter CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.57 | 81 ratings

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3 stars In essence there are only three things 'wrong' with this album as I see it - one; it's a little overproduced, two, the hints of 'world music' are not very strong in spite of what the package suggests, and three, it's not an amazing album.

For an album not to be amazing is certainly forgivable, and I am enjoying Shape Shifter with its focus on the guitar as a lead instrument, as opposed to an instrument that gets showcased between guest vocalists. And by 'lead' I mean it in terms of main focus, rather than its potential for jazz-fusion soloing. There's nothing on Shape Shifter that approaches the transcendence of say, Caravanserai but it's still Santana, still effective overall and distinctive at times.

In pre-release press, Carlos mentioned the band's landmark 1972 album in relation to Shape Shifter, and it bears some resemblance, in terms of its instrumental focus (the album has only true vocal track) and its occasional Latin moments, but not a lot of jazz-fusion. It's more of a pop rock album at times, though that's probably almost as misleading as comparing it to Caravanserai. Most certainly Shape Shifter is pop-influenced ? blending aspects of his 'Smooth' era and select parts of his past, wilder efforts with some few steps toward world music. Admittedly, this North American Indian component isn't a large feature at all, but it's welcome when it does appear, most notably in the opening song, which is dramatic but still great stuff.

In terms of production, the use of keyboards rather than piano, and the very clean, almost plastic guitar sound that can be heard on many of the rhythm tracks, adds to the slick, partially unpleasant feel to some of the sonics. While it's nice to hear an organ simulated on 'Shape Shifter,' some of the other synth parts don't seem to gel, like in 'Dom.' Not to pick on the keyboards, they don't stick out like a sore thumb or anything, but I didn't find them effective on every song. Thankfully, much of the guitar solos are presented in a form that's a little more raw, I feel I can just make out some of the attack on the strings ? not sure if this has anything to do with Santana releasing this on his own (new) label 'Starfaith Records' but it's nice to hear in any event.

Compositionally there's a lot to like, despite a sameness to some of the material. The opener is probably the best piece on the album, while some of the more ballad-influenced material like 'In the Light of a New Day' or 'Angelica Faith' making use of the quintessential Santana guitar phrasing. Elsewhere it sounds like more of a band effort, especially in the early stages and latter half. In fact, it's when they let more of the Latin rather than Pop feel into the record that I find myself enjoying Shape Shifter,most ? tracks like 'Macumba in Budapest' or 'Mr Szabo' show this, with its percussion and use of keyboard. Even the vocal cut, 'Eres La Luz' has some of that feel. In addition there's 'Nomad' where the band gets rocking. Here the keyboard solo reminds me a little of something like 'Flame Sky' from Welcome perhaps, and Carlos himself is spurred on to get a little more aggressive.

Despite being uncomfortable reviewing an album so soon after its release, I do feel that three stars or 'good but not essential' is a fair assessment of this one. Fans looking for moments akin to Santana's first forays into jazzier-fusion material will not find it here. Few would truly expect that, I imagine, but fans in need of a rest from the (at times) formulaic approach that has dominated his work in recent years, should at least check Shape Shifter out and make their own decision.

dreadpirateroberts | 3/5 |


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