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Santana: Welcome (1973)

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Before he picked up a guitar, Carlos Santana learned to play the violin. His father, José Santana, a career mariachi and accomplished violinist, made Carlos take lessons; to paraphrase Carlos's sentiment toward that instrument, he "didn't like the way it looked, the way it sounded," or "the way it smelled." Fair enough, but what the violin did do was later make the guitar a breeze for the future rock icon to master. A free spirit who found his musical calling after his family relocated from Tijuana to the Bay Area, Carlos formed a band that took his surname as its moniker and subsequently took the late Sixties by storm, inadvertently giving rise to a new genre through its amalgam of Latin folk & blues rock, with touches of psychedelia and an emphasis on — as per the sign of the times — lengthy jams. Carlos developed a style and sound so unique that as soon as you hear his playing you know it's him. Radio and word of mouth turned songs like "Evil Ways" and revamped versions of Peter Green's "Black Magic Woman" and Tito Puento's "Oye Como Va" into monsters; additionally, the deeper, more fascinating pieces, like "Soul Sacrifice" and "Toussaint L'Overture" rewarded seekers who went further than buying 45's. Several years into the band's career, a fluctuating line-up and a shift in spiritual embraces along with an ever-mounting jazz influence yielded a set of critically-acclaimed progressive-fusion affairs beginning with 1972's million-selling Caravanserai (an album devoid of singles) and following up the next two years with Welcome (which eventually went gold, then platinum) and Borboletta (gold). Again, singles were the last thing on Santana's collective mind in those days. Eventually, record label pressures for potential hits in the mold of the first three albums (Santana, Abraxas, Santana III) succeeded with 1976's Amigos and "Dance Sister Dance (Baila Mi Hermana)."

It's common knowledge that original organist and vocalist Gregg Rolie left after Caravanserai to pursue rockier ventures, taking Neal Schon with him to form Journey. That left Devadip Carlos Santana, Maitreya Michael Shrieve, percussionist José "Chepito" Areas and David Brown's replacement on bass, Doug Rauch, in his second and last turn for the group (not counting his presence on the Santana-McLaughlin collaboration Love Devotion Surrender). Many still lament the end of the "Woodstock line-up," but the fracture was inevitable; Carlos was in the midst of a discipleship with his guru, Sri Chinmoy, and he & Michael weren't very concerned with adhering to a single musical direction — which was most evident by how much the music had evolved post-Santana III. For primary lead vocals, Carlos enlisted Pharoah Sanders vocalist Leon Thomas in his one-and-only outing — a shame, for his is one of the best, most soulful voices to ever grace the fold. Still smokin' from dates on the road, percussionist Armando Peraza came aboard as an official member. Likewise, keyboard whiz Tom Coster graduated from guest to Rolie's official replacement. For his only appearance on a Santana studio album, though he can be heard on the monumental live album Lotus, second pianist-organist Richard Kermode's dexterous fingers joined forces with Coster's; as both also doubled on percussion where it was called for, this tandem was a significant force within the octet that should have outlived these sessions. (Note: Kermode, who passed away in 1996, was a co-founding member of Malo, the band led by Carlos's brother Jorgé.) Aside from transparent cases made where Chepito's longer hair, Carlos's shorter hair, and Tom Coster's fresh-from-a-teaching-stint appearance are concerned, the new albeit short-lived line-up was easily one of the best of the myriad Santana formations and of any peer group's of the time.

The beginning of Welcome (named for John Coltrane's piece) is akin to fanfare for the beginning of a journey: a four-minute Mellotron and organ-drenched arrangement of Turiya Alice Coltrane's "Going Home," sans guitar. Carlos puts down the sticks, picks up his axe, and kicks off "Love, Devotion and Surrender" with his own vocal before Leon Thomas takes over; Wendy Haas joins in on the chorus. Coster's Hammond organ and Kermode's electric piano share the spaces in the margins but the duo's full power has yet to materialize. This track, which is not from the collaborative album with John McLaughlin, is accessible yet still not quite a single. "Samba De Sausalito" is a concise retro instrumental with, for some unexplained reason, the drum seat taken occupied by one Tony Smith for these three minutes. The guitar/piano motif squarely makes for a quick flashback to Abraxas. A Shrieve-Coster co-write, "When I Look Into Your Eyes" sounds immense, not in an overpowering way, but through the song's textural aspects. The wordless vocal sections are rather beautiful, Kermode's electric piano chords adding even more color beneath. No less than three flautists play on this, including Return To Forever and Chick Corea alumnus Joe Farrell, who takes the solo. Coster's "segment" is initiated four minutes in by a staccato organ riff that would be equally at home on a Clavinet or Minimoog. While the organ and the funk bass of Rauch are loud, Carlos cuts through the mix with short, precise phrases. "Yours Is The Light" brings in a third vocalist, another Return To Forever alum, Flora Purim (Leon is credited with "whistling"). This is a pleasant number, in character with the rest of the album, but the point is driven home by guitar and piano solos by Carlos and Rich — the former early on, the latter serving as outro.

"Mother Africa" is a platform for the percussive side of the Santana Band — that is, the trio of Chepito, Peraza and Shrieve. Dense orgones introduce an uncredited monophonic synth line, no doubt from the right hand of Coster, that in turn yields to a soprano sax solo by Jules Broussard so crisp, the initial whole notes seem decidedly synthetic. The orchestral-backed, Thomas-sung "Light Of Life" is the softest shade in the wheel, inducing a calming effect that bridges the intensity of "Mother Africa" and "Flame-Sky." The key element here is the quasi-Teutonic electric piano motif (K). And speaking of "Flame-Sky," it is a rousing eleven-minute slice of fusion spotlighting some incendiary playing by Carlos & John — yes, McLaughlin. Not a note is wasted, from the clean, rapid-fire Spanish passages to the exclusively electric wailing by both parties. Not to be left out, Rich Kermode sneaks in a swank Hammond solo. Doug Rauch shares the writing credit but keeps free of the salvos, for the guitarists don't let up! The in-demand sessioner's muscular in-the-pocket lines are what the track requires, either way. Chepito is absent; conguero Peraza is there, but isn't there, for it's hard not to focus entirely on Devadip & Mahavishnu scorching the left & right channels. Only Maitreya's dazzling freeform drumming penetrates the wall of sound, his technique impeccable. Finally, the title track wraps up the principal recording, Carlos wringing a wealth of emotion from his guitar amidst a bittersweet cascade of descending acoustic and electric piano scales by way of the "four hands." {The 2003 remaster of the album sports a sterling bonus track simply dubbed "Mantra." Spiraling rhythms and a psychedelic sheen adorn this gem that, interestingly, hinges on a swirling organ pattern and one of Doug Rauch's meatier basslines.}

Like its milestone predecessor, Welcome is marked by a pervasive spirituality, dynamic, uplifting, and aptly titled.

WELCOME

Tracklist:


1. Going Home
2. Love Devotion & Surrender
3. Samba De Sausalito
4. When I Look Into Your Eyes
5. Yours Is The Light
6. Mother Africa
7. Light Of Life
8. Flame-Sky
9. Welcome
10. Mantra {Remaster bonus track}

Total time – 56:52

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