After their raw and exciting self-titled debut Santana, and the successful follow-up Abraxas, Santana decided to go dark and mysterious with their near perfect third album titled, well, Santana III. The cover art, which I just can’t seem to get enough of, does as good a job as any of describing the music within as it reaches higher into rock cosmos than any of their previous efforts.
It’s hard for me to imagine what fans must have thought when this hit the scene back in 1971. Right out of the gate the band hits a confident stride that doesn’t let-up as they deliver a writhing, swirling, near rock nirvana of an album. Of course, just about every album released by major acts in ’71 was near rock nirvana as well. Zeppelin IV, Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next…it was quite a year. And yet Santana were right there with the best of them, bringing their very particular type of heavy but danceable Latin rock.
“Batuka” starts out with subtle stereo percussion that quickly turns deadly with a heavy funk swagger that just screams from the speakers. Special mention needs to be made here of the sound, which is absolutely impeccable. The depth of the recording is truly splendid and the percussion, drums, organ, and Carlos’ sinuous guitar all meld together and make something truly remarkable.
“No One To Depend On” slinks by with a late night burn, the funky mid-section featuring the band deep in the cut. “Taboo” finds the band in psychedelic lounge mode with some excellent organ work and vocals from Greg Rolie. The track is dark and sweet, the sound dense and heavy.
“Toussaint L’Overture” ushers in the end of side one (you know…on a record) and the band goes out in Latin rock glory. Seriously, I have heard a lot of Santana jams over the years but nothing prepared me for this. Those drums rumble in like a coming storm and the band hits hard and heavy, the gleaming sound of the production bringing the instruments ever closer to complete meltdown.
Greg Rolie burns down the house with his Hammond B3 as Carlos builds layer after layer of his melodic, burning leads. Newcomer Neal Schon lends a hand to the jam on second guitar, and the three players trade solos towards the end in a stunning display of bravado. When Carlos comes back in with his almost romantic lead after the percussion mid section…let’s just say you should turn off all the lights, sit back, and let it all sink in.
“Guajira” is almost pure Latin jazz in its execution and seems to foreshadow Santana’s further development of jazz-rock as the years went on. The band plays beautifully here and provides a prime example of the dynamic wonder that made Santana such an incredible and vastly different band. Carlos’ solo here is wonderfully played, deep in the cut, and amazingly fluid.
“Jungle Strut” follows, its duel guitars sounding somewhat like the Allman Brothers if they moved down to Tijuana. This is quickly followed by Carlos’ own “Everything’s Coming Our Way,” and a fiery reading of Tito Puente’s “Para Los Rumberos.”
The 2006 Legacy Edition includes several bonus tracks from the recording sessions and only add to the overall enjoyment of the album. “Gumbo” smokes with exotic riffery and hot burning solos from Santana, Rolie, and Schon, while the rest of the band cooks up a boiling rhythm section.
“Folsom Street One” shows the deeper, more hypnotic side that this era of Santana was capable of – for more than seven minutes the band lays back and just lets the jam ride. Carlos sounds especially nice in his warped, distorted solo, aided by rolling percussion and some wonderfully played flute. Shame this didn’t make the original album as it is really something special.
“Banbeye” goes even further into hypnotic territory, achieving a near trance like state in its 10 plus minutes. The band displays a unique dynamic that is truly remarkable. The drums and percussion reach into and out of your subconscious as the growing chants become a solid layer of beauty. The guitar slowly chimes in after seemingly forever and reaches far into the cosmos of musical elevation. For a band that was about to tear apart at the seams they seem to be in complete unison with one another. It’s a shame they didn’t record more of this type of music, as it is indeed unique and wholly satisfying.
A second bonus disc is also included containing Santana’s entire performance at the closing of the Fillmore West, on July 4, 1971. The band performs a number of cuts off the new album as well as Santana classics such as “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” “Savor,” and “Incident at Neshabur.” There is also an excellent rendition of Joe Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way” from the Miles Davis album of the same name. Although the sound is a bit erratic at times – vocal drops outs, weird mixing – the scorching content more than makes up for it.
Santana III Legacy Edition is a stunning album that has been made even better with excellent remastered sound and a number of studio out takes and live cuts. The band was on fire during this period and just about to cross over to the next level with a newly formed band and the jazz tinged Caravanserai the following year. But here, in the rock perfection that was 1971, the band is forever captured in its youthful, ragged glory, putting the final touch on a stunning trilogy of perfect albums.