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Santana - Shape Shifter CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.58 | 82 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
4 stars Well, let's face it, despite being an absolute fan of the band's 70's works, I hadn't really paid much attention to the band's output since the mid-80's (outside some of the reviews I wrote here a few years ago), so I was definitely not expecting much from this new album, that I thought would be much like its recent predecessors (3 or 4 in the last 15 years). Actually if I hadn't read somewhere that this album was a mainly-instrumental affair, I probably wouldn't have even given it a shot before a few years. Despite an unpromising title, the Amerindian artwork seemed encouraging enough and the promo sticker specifying that the album had been 20 years in the making did prompt me to stick the CD directly in my car's deck. Wow, what a complete blast it was' I actually had to pop out the disc to make sure that the previous library user hadn't switched inadvertently discs. Nope!!! This was for real.

Past the gentle guitar intro and light Indian chants of the opening title-track, the heavy Hammond and Spanish guitar build such a progressive atmosphere that you'd swear that Borboletta or Caravanserai are just about to pop up in your speakers. And the magic does pop or rock) by, your brains frying as if you were back in 74. OK, the modern sound production won't fool you long: namely the drumming which simply can't possibly match the Shrieve or Narada Walden of yesteryears; but it is close enough for happiness. Followed by a calm fusion piece Dom, the album avoids the usual traps, mainly by remaining vocally silent - how many otherwise-fine albums are ruined by over-sweetish voices and horrendous love lyrics. The searing and most-energetic Nomad is the peak of the album, but only its third highlight. Simply awesome: Carlos, where were you in the last three decades??? After the fairly cheesy Metatron follows (the first flesh-failure of the disc, despite some fiery Carlos licks), it is relatively obvious that they want to revisit their Amigos days, with some sultry soft Latin fusion with Angelica Faith (co-penned by Chester Thompson) and Never The Same Again. Another winner is the Walden co-penned Light Of A New Day. As the title might indicate, Spark Of The Divine revisits the most esoteric and reflective/calmer moments of the band's oeuvre.

The next two tracks are aimed at Carlos' Hungarian buddy guitarist Gabor Szabo, but the mood seems to be more aerial than what the two compadres were enjoying in the first years they'd met: the former having a bit of string island bossa-cheesiness, while the latter is an obvious homage to Gabor. Slowly building on its percussive energy, the album explodes again with the enthralling Eres La Luz, the second sung track, overflowing positive energy (the rhythm suggest Supernatural/Shaman era slightly, but with much more class than 12 years ago), just like the Santana of old and more-recent was always doing. With another typically sultry Santana mood track Canela and ultra-slow Sweet Dancer to close out the album, Calos and the boys have sent us flying alongside the rainbow of felicity, like they hadn't in a very long time.

Easily the band's best album of the last 35 years (if you'll except the brilliant solo Carlos albums Oneness and Swing Of Delight), but SS is also the band's proggiest album since their golden era. Despite the album losing some of its initial energy after five tracks, Shape Shifter still retains plenty of momentum and a seal of quality that very few albums released in 2012 achieve (and this is a good year too), and this might just make it climb on the edge of my top10 of the year. Hopefully, now that they've found the know-how back, it won't take the band nearly 20 years to come back with an equally excellent album.

Sean Trane | 4/5 |


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