see also... Mahavishnu Orchestra
Guitarist Carlos Santana and his band sound like they took a good dose of Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra and the like before making this classic album, a tasty mix of jazz fusion, psychedelia and Latin rhythms and melodies. The sequence comprising the first half is a whirling journey through contemporary jazz-rock, each short track offering a different view of the field. Touristy and experimental it may be, but it shows that the strength of the rock heritage of fusion is in its conciseness, and it's recommended if you find the likes of "Bitches Brew" too sprawling.
It begins with subtlety, gradually emerging from a desert haze to slow gloopy harmonies in the style of Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way". The second "movement" "Waves Within" cements the album's jazz foundation even more firmly. It introduces one of the album's stars, drummer Mike Shrieve, thumping out an exhilarating rhythm to carry Santana's crisp guitar flourishes. Dirty wah-wahs on "Look Up" then land us in the realms of funk. Which curiously was the direction Miles Davis was taking around the same time...
When the first actual song "Just in Time to See the Sun" arrives, I see why they did well to stick to instrumentals on this album. The songs are easy-going jazz pop in the manner of Canterbury prog (Caravan et al.), but the wispy and flat vocals, here and elsewhere, are the only thing to let the album down. So it's a great relief when the climax of the sequence, "Song of the Wind", arrives. This must be the place to go to hear Santana's renowned guitar, delivering a sequence of effortless, supremely lyrical bluesy solos. It's heading towards symphonic prog rock in its scale.
The tunes of the songs themselves aren't weak, and the pick of these is "All the Love in the Universe". Here, yet again, they sweep away the relatively wet singing with a dazzling instrumental, propelled by a breathlessly sputtering bass line. This introduces the album's darker second half, which enters a hazy psychedelic world with "Future Primitive", a tentacled percussion workout for conguero Mingo Lewis and timbalero Jose Areas (the album's cover notes taught me two new words!).
The most Latin of the songs, "Stone Flower" and another hyperactive instrumental "La Fuente Del Ritmo" keep the energy up before the massive finale "Every Step of the Way". After teasing us with some Bitches Brew-fashion slow brooding in the first three minutes, they suddenly kick up the tempo and pull everyone together for a no-holds-barred conclusion. Including yet another new flavouring in a band arrangement in the style of Gil Evans (the orchestrator for Miles Davis's "Porgy and Bess" and others). And a psycho-eyed flautist doing inhuman things to his instrument.
Highly recommended, especially to prog lovers wondering what that jazz fusion thing is all about.
December 17, 2005