Artist: Santana

Album: Abraxas

I couldn’t believe my good fortune four years back when I fished Abraxas out of the box at the Mother of All Yard Sales; believe it or, I didn’t know that was the album’s name, but I certainly knew the music listed (up until that point, I’d only thought of Abraxas as the name of a B-movie filmed in the Thornbury area starring Jesse Ventura).

Anyway, back to the album.

Opening with the hypnotic ringing chimes of Singing Winds, Crying Beasts, Abraxas gently lowers the listener into a pool of swinging salsa beats, until the familiar opening chords of Black Magic Women/Gypsy Queen (originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac) grasps the listener – and forces him or her to take notice.

The lone Carlos Santana-written track on Side 1, Incident at Neshabur, is a unique instrumental mix of jazz fusion, salsa, and progressive rock.

Side 2 is much more of the same, an eclectic yet cohesive mix of musical styles.

It’s unfortunate very little of this album gets played on rock radio, as what passes for radio programming these days tends to focus on the more accessible hits such as Black Magic Woman (though sometimes Oye Como Va or Hope You’re Feeling Better may turn up on the radio dial). But then again, it’s doubtful an album with an unpredictability such as Abraxas could be recorded today, in the way it sways between salsa, rock, and jazz.

Santana as a guitarist isn’t as dominant as, say, a Pete Townshend or Jimmy Page. His artistry lies in his subtlety, picking out the notes and forcing the listener to listen and appreciate – rather than attack the listener with power chords and a wall of sound.

Where Santana’s work in the late ’90s and early part of this decade has been predominately ‘commercial’ (albeit still good), recording with the likes of Rob Thomas and Michelle Branch, it’s his work at the beginning of his career that still stands head and shoulders above many of his contemporaries – and, quite frankly, above much of the music that gets recorded today.