Saturday, March 17, 2012

Abraxas (1970)

Big difference between the first Santana album and this one, such to me that it sounds on the order of the before-and-after of a trip to the crossroads. Again, I'm pretty sure most of that is the production, with the raw vitality of the mush that preceded it sculpted with definition, texture, and grace. For one thing, this catapulted Carlos Santana to nearly the top of the list of my favorite guitar players at the time, with Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix. Santana is the most lyrical and eloquent of them, the most oriented to sensual pleasure. This might be most evident on the instrumental "Samba Pa Ti," whose signature melody is a swooning, bruised thing, which likely any novice player with a bit of concentration could pick out and play just as well. Aye but there's the rub, they didn't now did they? Not to mention there's no way anyone else ever takes it the places he does anyhow. I appreciate a player who can wield silence and emptiness as well as bring the tumbling noise and the melody too; I can check all that off my list here. Also, Carlos Santana always somehow manages to sound impossibly suave and debonair for what he is doing, so bonus. The same basic steamrolling unit from that first album keeps a lively throughline going, enough so that at least a couple of these tracks just jettison the singing altogether, while others keep it to a minimum. There's even a few more percussionists than before, which only means the thunder is denser when deployed—here they know better when to lay back and let the songcraft do the work. This remains my favorite from the long and estimable catalogue of Santana (the band), which has its gems but too often requires a lot of work to dig them out, as the siren call of prog beckoned for them next. Eventually the same impulse to better production values that makes this album work so well started to take on a life of its own, as it does with so many seduced by prog, and the results too often strayed toward the arid and sterile. Not only are none of those problems here, I don't particularly hear even a hint of them. Thus this has become the Santana album to which I most easily and frequently—and happily—return.

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