MUSIC REVIEW: SANTANA, LOTUS
Audio Fidelity Hybrid Double - SACD - AFZ2 247
Released January 2017, Original Release 1974.
This is a very interesting choice for Audio Fidelity (see our previous interview with label President Marshall Blonstein) to select for their series of Hybrid /SACD releases.
Firstly, it comes hot on the heels of the company winding back on their excellent run of Surround Sound SACDs.
In the reissue industry, margins seem to be very fine and despite offering exceptional value with their recent releases (Remastered Stereo CD layer/remastered Stereo SACD layer/ remastered Surround SACD all on one disc) they do not appear to have been recouping their investment. Leasing master tapes comes with all manner of legal legwork, and upfront licensing fees for the rights can be prohibitive.
We are told Audio Fidelity are limiting the number of multi-channel offerings for the future. As a collector of these releases, it is understandable, but disappointing.
So, we have the situation where recent releases of bands such as WEATHER REPORT and RETURN TO FOREVER have featured a stereo layer only, whilst the pristine multi-channel master mixes collect dust, not royalties, in a vault far, far away........
Which brings us to the album in question here, released in January 2017 after a long gestation period.
By 1973, SANTANA had released the "WELCOME" album, and perhaps, the first indication that the vast appeal of the band was fading somewhat.
Internationally, the band still had live drawing power, but the feel back in the States seems to be that they had reached peak altitude, and were now just cruising.
For a band who had virtually synthesized a new genre, this must have been a source of frustration and disappointment.
From the debut album, through to ABRAXAS, SANTANA 3 and CARAVANSERAI, they continued to be innovative, exciting, and quite fearless.
Let's not forget that CARAVANSERAI opener, snappily titled "ETERNAL CARAVAN OF REINCARNATION", kicked off with a cricket solo (the insect, not the ..never mind) and the first human sounds were ghostly saxophone squawks.
This is the album that COLUMBIA President Clive Davis dubbed "Career Suicide" on first hearing.
Released to a surprisingly muted response, it is now rightly regarded as a stone cold classic.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to guess the pressure Carlos was under to produce something less avant-garde.
However, Carlos was not a man to be put in a box at this point.
In a rush of creativity, he recorded sets with BUDDY MILES (1972) and donned the white robes with JOHN McLAUGHLIN for LOVE, DEVOTION, SURRENDER (1972-73).
If Clive was choking on CARAVANSERAI, he would have been aghast at these offerings.
Still today, they are challenging albums, guaranteed to clear the dance floor in mere seconds.
So, perhaps the slight reigning in felt on WELCOME (1973) was a balm for Clive’s angst.
To balance it all, and perhaps seek a more receptive audience for the more outer-limits that Carlos needed to traverse, a refreshed line-up, known as THE NEW SANTANA BAND, decamped to Osaka, Japan in July 1973 for some concert dates.
A compilation of the two nights at KOSEINENKIN HALL, July 3rd& 4th, was subsequently released as an extraordinary 3 record set, complete with dazzling foldout artwork. The catch was, initially, it was a Japan only release.
That of course did not stop it crossing borders, and certainly, many imported copies made it to Australia.
I have wondered if the selectivity of the release was some sort of 'flipping the bird' to the U.S. audience who seemed less willing to trust his instincts.
The concert set presented here draws only one full track and one intro from
CARAVANSERAI. (Another hint perhaps that Carlos was feeling some sense of rejection, but more likely, those tracks are difficult to bring off live.)
Three tracks come from WELCOME, and six from ABRAXAS.
Debut album gets one nod, and SANTANA 3 gets a snatch of BATUKA and a raging workout on TOUSSAINT L'OVERTURE.
Eight new tracks, as jams or tunes hang it all together.
Worth noting is the production: this was recorded and mastered in the SQ Encoding method: essentially what was known as QUADROPHONIC.
So, each release of the album, whether it be standard record, CD, or this SACD, will have the SQ mix present. With many modern codecs to play with, it is not hard to hear this set in truly immersive surround sound. Something as basic as Dolby ProLogic will get you there. There is ample discussion in other forums about the technical aspects, so I am not going to bog down with that.
Mastering of the CD layer was by Steve Hoffman and Stephen Marsh, whilst Stephen took care of the SACD authoring.
As to the music, I must confess this. Forty-three years have slid by since this was recorded. This, with one track excepted, remains a take-no-prisoners album.
Carlos is barely present for the opening tracks, heard picking and scratching the rhythms as the band find their mojo. The listener gets a tangible sense of the players watching each other and locking in.
But when Carlos hits that amazing ascending lick in EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, all bets are off.
Carlos is still playing with his 'Woodstock Tone', with only hints of the 'Lady-Tone' that has now become his signature (in my mind, to his detriment).
He leads, he punctuates, and when he hits the sweet spot on the stage, strafes the audience with some of the most amazing controlled feedback you will ever hear.
He also works in a few musical references: see how many you can spot.
The bass work from Doug Rauch is clear in the mix, and the keyboards of Tom Coster and Richard Kermode have sharp focus.
The multiple percussionists are breathtaking.
It must be said; whole chunks of these instrumentals are still challenging to listen to.
This is not an album I would play to a novice SANTANA fan.
It is, however, a refreshing antidote for anyone who feels Carlos has lost the fire. When he was on fire, as documented on this set, he was quite radical. This is Carlos getting his Coltrane' on.
The album follows the format of the concert, with one oddity noted, the clumsy insertion/fade on MR. UDO. You must hear it to understand my point.
Carlos himself was consulted about the final mastering and has given it his approval, noting it is the best transfer he has heard.
Is it a giant step up from the record?
My copy was subject to 'unauthorised relocation' years ago, so cannot compare. There is no denying the thrill of hearing these tracks without the three side changes.
Is it better than the older CD?
I think it is a little more focused: the dynamics are at times breathtaking, and with the SACD layer, the scope for cranking it up has risen a few notches.
The listeners who will get the most out of this are the ones who still play the first four albums on heavy rotation. The ones who bought SUPERNATURAL out of expectant loyalty, but seldom play it.
This is Carlos letting it rip. Praise be for that.
- Going Home
- A-1 Funk
- Every Step of the Way
- Black Magic Woman
- Gypsy Queen
- Oye Como Va
- Yours Is the Light
- Xibaba (She-Ba-Ba)
- Stone Flower (Introduction)
- Castillos de Arena Part 1 (Sand Castle)
- Free Angela
- Samba de Sausalito
- Kyoto (Drum Solo)
- Castillos de Arena Part 2 (Sand Castle)
- Incident at Neshabur
- Se a Cabo
- Samba Pa Ti
- Mr. Udo
- Toussaint L'Overture
- Carlos Santana — lead guitar, Latin percussion
- Leon Thomas — maracas, vocals, Latin percussion
- Tom Coster — Hammond organ, electric piano, Yamaha organ, Latin percussion
- Richard Kermode — Hammond organ, electric piano, Latin percussion
- Doug Rauch — bass
- Armando Peraza — congas, bongos, Latin percussion
- José "Chepito" Areas — timbales, congas, Latin percussion
- Michael Shrieve — drums
MUSIC - FAN
- NON FAN
A walking encyclopedia of music, David's broad music knowledge is a valued member to the team. Without music, there would be no HiFi. Look out for his words on current, past and future music, as well as album reviews.
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