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Santana - Welcome CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.49 | 171 ratings

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2 stars Since their electrifying debut Santana had improved and matured with every album, culminating in the timeless progressive masterpiece that is "Caravanserai" in 1972. Unfortunately, that was to be the last recording from the classic lineup as Greg Rolie and Neal Schon split to start their own "Journey" and conga man James Mingo Lewis had gone to wherever disgruntled percussionists go. Not only that but they abandoned their custom of striking, artistic album covers and wrapped this LP in a blank one that had "Welcome" in raised letters as its sole feature. This is Santana's "White Album" and it regrettably but aptly symbolizes the lack of color in the music contained inside.

"Going Home," arranged by Alice Coltrane and "The New Santana Band," is the opener where we are immediately introduced to Rolie's keyboard replacements. Richard Kermode plays Hammond organ and Mellotron and Tom Coster plays an oboe-like melody on the Yamaha organ. It's intended as an instrumental introduction but the crashing drums and percussion along with malleted cymbals lead to. nothing much. "Love, Devotion and Surrender" should be the payoff to but it fails to deliver anything revelatory except for Carlos' singing on the first verse. Yes, it has a nice rhythm but there's no solo to speak of and Wendy Haas' and Leon Thomas' vocals are pedestrian at best. You'd expect something hot and spicy from percussionist Jose Chepito Areas yet his instrumental, "Samba De Sausalito," is sorely lacking in the group's customary dynamics and only serves as a jam for Coster to fill a long break with electric piano. Drummer Michael Shrieve and Coster contribute "When I Look Into Your Eyes" but it, too, is a letdown. Its MOR flavor is so far from being exciting that it may as well be elevator muzak. There's at least some decent flute from Joe Ferrell and when they elevate things to a funky feel halfway through you sense something explosive might be coming but it just fades away. By now it hits you that there's something very essential missing so far: Carlos Santana's guitar! Did his guru tell him he was playing too much? Did a lotus-eating cult kidnap him? Your inquiry is answered with Kermode's "Yours is the Light" as Carlos makes an appearance at last with a much needed ride early in the tune. However the song is a continuation of their lethargic cocktail lounge approach and the vocal by guest Flora Purim is so buried in reverb that it comes off more like a 60s Sergio Mendez easy listening soft jazz piece than something from the mighty Santana. Moving on, "Mother Africa" (a variation on a theme by Herbie Mann) is a relief because it lends hope that they may yet have a pulse. Its lilting melody transitions to some good percussion work from Armando Peraza and Areas while Jules Broussard contributes some fluid soprano sax. Next you are greeted by a lovely string arrangement at the start of "Light of Life," but it's another disappointment. I swear it sounds as if the band was afraid of waking the neighbors. It makes you yearn for Greg Rolie's gruff but distinctive vocals because Leon Thomas is boring and pitchy. If there's a redeeming track to be found it's "Flame-Sky" that sounds like a leftover cut from Carlos and John McLaughlin's impressive project together ("Love, Devotion & Surrender"). It builds over an unorthodox time signature and Mr. Santana and Mr. Mahavishnu turn in some inspired guitar solos along with some slashing Hammond organ. It's a bit long at 11:32 but vastly preferable to the sleep-inducing drivel that preceded it. The closer is their take on John Coltrane's "Welcome" that draws Carlos out into the spotlight to offer up a lot of controlled feedback notes but very few flourishes. If you dig music with pianos cascading endlessly as if portraying an amateur painting of a serene waterfall and shimmering spray then this is your ticket. If that's not your idea of great Santana music then it's six and a half minutes of pointless, meandering swirls.

This album is a prime example of digressive rock music. The caliber of the guest musicians cannot be called into question but Lawrence Welk's orchestra had high-quality members as well and yet I doubt that you'd want to sit through one of their albums. And I'm not alone in my assessment. "Caravanserai," despite its bold and challenging foray into jazz rock/fusion, went platinum while "Welcome" sold dismally and barely reached gold status. Nothing lasts forever and the core of personnel that made Santana the industry juggernaut that consistently scaled the charts had scattered to the winds. From here on out Carlos would juggle the roster with every new album with mixed results. However, this particular project is the nadir. It's like someone saying, "Welcome, we'll be right with you" and you take a seat in the waiting room but no one ever comes back to take you anywhere. 1.8 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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