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To me Moonflower is beyond any kind of categorisation of music. The album is a testament to how music has the ability to touch the soul (cliche, but true). It seems that, especially during the live performances, that Carlos Santana and the band have said ok guys "lets go" and make music perfection. This may sound trite, but really this is what the band have managed to do, with the help of Carlos' supreme guitar playing.The standout live track "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" is incredible, again largely due to Carlos, but helped along by a cohesion of the bands excellent musicianship. "Soul Sacrifice" is another show stopper and the guitar work i believe has yet to be matched even by todays axemen. Indeed this album can only be described as a slice of Heaven on Earth...enjoy!!
70's nostalgia is with us in a big way. On TV we have retro shows like the brilliant 'Life On Mars'. In design Brown a mainstay of 70's design is back in and in music many bands are creating songs that would be just as home in the mid 70's charts as they are in today's hit list. From the Scissor Sisters to Mika the sounds of the seventies are no more a distant memory. Even the prawn cocktail is back! It's no surprise that this trend has also hit advertisers and some of you may have noticed that a M & S food advert used a very distinctive guitar music as it's backdrop...you know the one "This is not just a pie this is a M&S pie stuffed with rich blah, blah, blah". Most people don't realise that this piece of music 'Samba Pa Ti' was off a 1970's album 'Abraxas' by Santana who were also responsible for one of the seminal double albums (mostly live) of that decade 'Moonflower' (1977).
For many Santana are known for the recent albums 'Supernatural' and 'Shaman' and other might have seen them in the 60's at the hippy festival to beat all festivals Woodstock but the to a large extent the middle years seem to have been forgotten and this is a shame.
To clarify for those that don't know Santana the band (originally the Santana Blues Band) is named after its founder Carlos Santana. He's the lead guitarist, main songwriter and the only constant in many changes of personnel over the years. Santana Mexican by birth almost single handed invented the genre of Latino Rock, which fuses Latin American dance rhythms rich with the sound of timbales, bongos and congas to more traditional rock instrumentation and composition. He is one of the most accomplished and distinctive guitarists alive, his playing often categorised by high pitched extended crystal clear notes. He can justifiably be ranked amongst the great rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Peter Green.
'Moonflower' originally a double vinyl album now a double CD is a celebration of the best of Santana's music stretching back to the late 60's. Its 19 track are mostly recorded live in different venues in Europe as they toured with the bulk of the material from their 'Amigos' and 'Festival' albums and include the best of the band's line-ups. On vocals is Greg Walker with his distinctive deep soulful voice, virtuoso musicians such as Graham Lear on Drums, David Margen and Pablo Tellez are on base and Tom Coster is on keyboard and all are complemented by a huge percussion section. In many ways Coster's keyboards are the glue that bind many of the songs together and his interaction with Santana's guitar playing provide many outstanding moments on the album.
I'm not usually a fan of live albums but once in a while you get one that succeeds in translating the heart and soul of the live spectacle to your hi-fi, Talking Head's 'Stop Making Sense' is the best example but 'Moonflower' also manages this trick. The music meanders from slow melodic rock instrumentals to high energy Latino beats and some songs include heavier rock rhythms. The musicianship is outstanding and the quality of performance is unrelenting. The inclusion of the studio tracks amongst the live material does seem a little strange but might have been an attempt by the producer to include some established hits in the live material which has previously only appealed to a restricted Santana audience, a worry that in the end was unjustified.
Since the early 70's and still around this period Santana was interested in eastern mysticism and the power of meditation and up to the early 80's was involved with the guru Sri Chinmoy. As a follower he adopted the name 'Devadip' meaning "Love, Devotion, Surrender". It's not surprising that many of the tracks on this double album do feel deeply spiritual even the cover of the album with its heavenly cloudscape hints at this. The distinctive Santana trick of impossibly extending the notes on his guitar solos gives the music and especially the instrumental tracks such as 'Bahia', 'Europa (Earth's Cry Heaven's Smile)' and 'Transcendance' an ethereal mystical quality superb to listen to in Sunday morning chill out mode. However this is not a new age type chill out album, the tempo is consistently picked up in the more Latin American influenced tracks like 'Let The Children Play' and 'Dance Sister Dance' (Baila Mi Hermana). These are catchy songs, which fuse exuberant dance rhythms and soulful vocals all backed up by Santana's guitar riffs insistent hypnotic percussion reminding me of the music you might hear in South American carnival.
The standout instrumental track on the album must be 'Soul Sacrifice', a high tempo hard hedged rock jam that eventually transforms into one of the most exiting drum solos ever recorded the aptly named 'Head, Hands and Feet'. Yes, these were the days of drum solos a forgotten art amongst today's musicians, to be fair most drum solos of that time were are a chore to listen to but this example by Graham Lear is different and even more astounding considering it was recorded during a live performance.
For a double album the standard of the tracks included is uniformly good but there are obviously a few stand out numbers. First I have to highlight a version of Peter Green's (Fleetwood Mac's) rock blues classic 'Black Magic Woman', which is transformed into Latin/soul/rock perfection by Santana. Once again Greg Walker's vocals are outstanding bringing out more passion and emotion in the lyrics than the original and balance perfectly Santana's riff crescendos. This is probably one of the best cover versions you'll hear of a song, which was also brilliant in its original form.
A second stand out track is coincidentally another sixties cover 'She's Not There' originally recorded by the British band The Zombies in 1964. Once again Santana has transformed the original from a low key jazz influenced pop song to a high tempo rock ballad with swathes of percussion, Walker's Soul vocals and the trademark Santana guitar all in evidence and in perfect harmony. This is the last track on the double CD and like all great showmen and entertainers Santana leaves you wanting more.
Santana and his music which relied heavily on fusing many different musical genre exemplified by albums such as Moonflower became unpopular in the lat 70's and 80's when popular music through punk and new wave was moving away from complexity of bands such as Santana adopting the more stripped down raw sound of punk and garage bands. It took decades for Santana to re-emerge in to wider public popularity but such a talented artist was always going to make a comeback and the massive worldwide success of 'Supernatural' a few years back has introduced a new generation of fans to his extensive back catalogue. 'Moonflower' is the perfect place to start.
Consistently voted in polls, as one of the best albums of the 70's 'Moonflower' is essential listening for any new Santana fans and those who wish to see a different side of the 70's Rock and pop.
TRACK LISTING AND INFO
1. Dawn/Go Within
3. Let The Children Play
5. I'll Be Waiting
8. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen
9. Dance Sister Dance (Baila Mi Hermana)
10. Europa (Earth's Cry Heaven's Smile)
1. She's Not There
2. Flor D'Luna (Moonflower)
3. Soul Sacrifice/Head, Hands & Feet
4. El Morocco
6. Savor/Toussaint L'Overture
7. Black Magic Woman
8. I'll Be Waiting
9. She's Not There
'Moonflower' is available from Amazon for £9.98 (+p&p) at the time this review was written, on the Sony label (ASIN: B0000A2I1E).
© Mauri 2007
Santana have been making great music for more years than I care to remember, for those of you who have only recently discovered them, (probably due to "Supernatural") then you should check out some of their back catalogue. Moonflower would be a great choice, take a chance and listen to this 2 disc album from 1977. Tracks to look out for are, Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, Europa (earths cry/heavens smile) on disc 1, and on disc 2 there is a great cover of the Zombies "She's not there". This music transends all tastes, there is just so much vitality, melody, soul and good old rock'n'roll. Greg Walkers vocals would put most bands of today to shame, and what can I say about Carlos Devadip Santana's guitar playing? There is nothing you can say about it that would do it justice, It quite simply is in a class of its own.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Dawn Go Within
3 Let The Children Play
5 I'll Be Waiting
7 She's Not There
9 Black Magic Woman
10 Gypsy Queen
11 Dance Sister Dance
13 Flor D'luna
14 Soul Sacrifice
15 El Morocco
18 Toussaint L'Overture