Santana / Abraxas – A True Demo Disc in the World of Rock Recordings

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This is a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house.

When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

You may have heard me say this before, but it’s important to make something clear about this music. It doesn’t even make sense at moderate listening levels. Normal listening levels suck the life right out of it. You can tell by the way it was recorded — this music is designed to be played back at LOUD levels, and anything less does a disservice to the musicians, not to mention the listener, you.

Musicianship

Like Santana’s first album, when you play a Hot Stamper copy of Abraxas very loud, you soon find yourself marvelling at the musicianship of the group — because the best Hot Stamper pressings, communicating every bit of the energy and clarity the recording has to offer, let you hear what a great band they were.

On badly mastered records, such as the run-of-the-mill domestic LP, or the audiophile pressings on MoFi and CBS, the music lacks the power of the real thing. I want to hear Santana ROCK. Most pressings don’t let me do that, but the best sure do.

Folks, you owe it to yourself to hear what a great band Santana were back in the day. Hot Stampers of any of the first three records will do the trick. If you’ve got the stereo that can play live rock and roll, we’ve got the records that sound like Santana playing live. Take it from someone who likes to listen to his music at fairly loud levels, it is truly a thrill.

Size

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.

Abraxas in Depth

Ted Drozdowski

The San Francisco Bay Area rock scene of the late ’60s was one that encouraged radical experimentation and discouraged the type of mindless conformity that’s often plagued corporate rock. When one considers just how different Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and the Grateful Dead sounded, it becomes obvious just how much it was encouraged.

In the mid-’90s, an album as eclectic as Abraxas would be considered a marketing exec’s worst nightmare. But at the dawn of the 1970s, this unorthodox mix of rock, jazz, salsa, and blues proved quite successful.

Whether adding rock elements to salsa king Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” embracing instrumental jazz-rock on “Incident at Neshabur” and “Samba Pa Ti,” or tackling moody blues-rock on Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman,” the band keeps things unpredictable yet cohesive.

Beyond his own explorations, the larger question bearing on Carlos was where to take the band. “Black Magic Woman” nearly fell into their collective lap. One benefit of superstardom was the new friends it attracted, from Miles Davis — who phoned Carlos during the sessions to offer best wishes — to early Fleetwood Mac’s Les Paul guru Peter Green. The British guitarist lobbied Santana to play his tune, explaining that it had taken him a year to convince his own group to record “Black Magic Woman” and that they didn’t want to play it. At a pre-concert sound check Carlos led the band through “Black Magic Woman” into a segue with Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen” and was so pleased with the results that the band recorded both tunes the same way in the studio. The “Gypsy Queen” tag was edited away for Top 40 radio.

Carlos also decided that he wanted to further the group’s dedication to Latin music with jazz elements. That allowed him to make the best use of drummer Shrieve, who had proved himself a master of polyrhythms with his solo at Woodstock during the group’s performance of Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.” Abraxas’ “Oye Como Va” and “Incident At Neshabur” became the centerpieces of this pursuit.

“Oye Como Va” was originally recorded by Tito Puente, the great New York City-born Afro-Caribbean bandleader and composer of Puerto Rican descent. “I thought, ‘This is a song like ‘Louie Louie,’” Santana told Ben Fong-Torres. “This is a song that when you play it, people are going to get up and dance.”

He was right. The relaxed patter of the drums and percussion along with dynamic breaks and Carlos’ simple, gently swinging melody immediately pushes the hips.

“Incident At Neshabur” is far more cerebral. The instrumental was composed by Carlos with blues and jazz pianist Albert Gianquinto. The tune’s brisk tempo changes, dense harmonic colors, groove-oriented breakdowns, polyrhythmic drive and slamming improvisational guitar solo are complex and intoxicating — so much so that B-3 player Rolie recalls thinking “I hope I make it through this!” while the tape rolled in the studio. The song has since become a springboard for grandiose improvisations live, sometimes expanding its original 4:58 to nearly a half-hour. It also helped establish Santana as one of the earliest harbingers of the World Music scene. Reviewing the disc in Rolling Stone upon its September 1970 release, Jim Nash proclaimed that Santana “might do for Latin music what Chuck Berry did for the blues.”

Carlos Santana achieved his goal of creating a better sounding and more successful album than his band’s debut with Abraxas, and satisfied his desire to make richer, more complex music.

Discography

Santana 1969-1980

1969 Santana – (Their Masterpiece)
1970 Abraxas – (Top 100)
1971 Santana III – (Their third and last Must Own album)
1972 Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live!
1972 Caravanserai
1972 Love Devotion Surrender
1973 Welcome
1974 Illuminations
1974 Borboletta
1976 Amigos
1977 Festival
1977 Moonflower
1978 Inner Secrets
1979 Marathon
1980 The Swing of Delight