September 23 – Listen How it Goes, My Rhythm: Abraxas at 50

9/23/70: Santana – Abraxas

We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it “Abraxas”…. – from the Hermann Hesse book, Demian.

There are examples throughout all music genres of bands or individual artists who get into a groove where they can do no wrong in the studio, on stage, or both. In 1970, Latin/blues/jazz/rock fusion band Santana was one such group. It had been just over a year since their breakout performance at Woodstock, followed by the release of their self-titled debut album a couple of weeks after the festival. Santana’s followup was recorded with the same lineup over a period of two weeks in the spring of 1970, and Abraxas was released on this date 50 years ago. It reached the top of the Billboard album chart in the U.S. while featuring three prominent instrumental tracks.

Santana On 'Black Magic Woman,' A Pioneering Cultural Mashup : NPR

The star singles from the album were covers: Black Magic Woman (Fleetwood Mac) reached number four in the U.S. (after leaving Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green derived significant royalty income from Santana’s version), and Tito Puente’s Oye Como Va hit number thirteen. But after many years and many plays, the tracks that keep me coming back are the non-hits, such as the instrumentals Incident at Neshabur with its heavy jazz inflection, and Samba Pa Ti. Carlos’s inspiration for this song was a heavily drinking saxophone busker outside his NYC hotel window. Two of my other favorites were written and sung by keyboardist Gregg Rolie, Mother’s Daughter and Hope You’re Feeling Better. The former maintains much of the Latin flavor of the rest of the album, while the latter features more of a straight forward rock sound. Carlos’s searing guitar licks are the common denominator along with Rolie’s vocals.

Santana - Hope You're Feeling Better - 8/18/1970 - Tanglewood (Official) -  YouTube

While the first three Santana albums have been stuffed into the classic rock pigeon hole over the years, this band perhaps more than anyone carved out a unique niche. The Latin rhythms which form the backbone of Santana’s music just feel good to listen to, and the band must’ve felt an immense sense of freedom when playing it. It could be a bitter cold winter day, but with Abraxas playing it’s always sunny and 75. For many including me, this continued into their lesser known (commercially speaking) fourth album, Caravanserai, before Carlos shifted into a different but also very interesting phase of his career.

Though Carlos and the Latin element of these albums understandably garner the most attention, I feel Gregg Rolie doesn’t receive the praise he deserves. Maybe he has and I’m just not aware. However, it’s no coincidence that Santana and later Journey (who he co-founded with Neal Schon, who also played on the third Santana album) were markedly different bands after his departure. His vocals and signature Hammond B3 were crucial ingredients to both.

rolie

Bonus Blurbs:

  • Oye Como Va, translated to English, means listen how it goes, my rhythm.
  • The album was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2016.
  • The album cover art is a painting titled Annunciation, by Mati Klarwein. His distinctive style would be found on later albums by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Gregg Allman.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Singing Winds
  2. Crying Beasts
  3. Oye Como Va
  4. Incident at Neshabur

Side Two:

  1. Se Acabó
  2. Mother’s Daughter
  3. Samba Pa Ti
  4. Hope You’re Feeling Better
  5. El Nicoya

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/santana-abraxas/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/abraxas-mw0000191745

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraxas_(album)

June 3 – Soft Machine’s Third & Musical Comfort Zones

6/3/70: Soft Machine – Third

Today we’ve reached the 50th anniversary of the release of one of those albums. I can honestly say I enjoy Soft Machine’s four composition double album Third, but for the life of me I don’t know how to write specifically about it. That tends to be the case for me with prog. If I haven’t made it clear, I’m not a musician, trained or otherwise. The more technical the music, the more difficult it is for me to express myself. If I tried to offer a serious critique of an album such as Third beyond basic perceptions, likes/dislikes, it would quickly become obvious that I’m out of my depth by fans who have known this album for many years and are knowledgeable about this music – underground, prog, the Canterbury scene, jazz, fusion, etc. – from a technical standpoint. But this is such a unique and visionary record that I can’t just relegate it to my end of the month odds ‘n ends roundup. So, what can I say about it? I think what I can express is an appreciation for the overall artistic vision, effort and musicianship itself that went into creating it.

Soft Machine - Wikipedia

It’s an admiration that keeps me veering out of my comfort zone and onto different musical rabbit trails and listening with fascination for what goes into creating. That “what” is something I can only understand as beginning as a seed in someone’s mind and/or heart and expanding from there. Sometimes that seed is in the form of a dream, such as what began in McCartney’s brain as Scrambled Eggs and ended up as Yesterday. Other times it’s an idea an artist walks around with for years after the initial inspiration. Sometimes the end result misses the mark, subjectively speaking, other times it works perfectly – even if only to the artist who created it. For me, it can be the songwriting gifts of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, or the highly trained musicianship of bands who met while studying music in college, such as Chicago or Dream Theater. It’s present in the sometimes chaotic world of Zappa and the short-lived brilliance of Syd Barrett, and even though it has yet to click with me, it’s all over Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Don Van Vliet actually thought through every bit of that album and almost drove his band to insanity trying get it on tape precisely according to what he heard in his head. It’s also in what seems like the simplest country blues from the Mississippi Delta. And on and on.

Captain Beefheart - Live In Kansas City - 1974 - Past Daily ...

I took the plunge with Third a few short years ago, and I like it more and more with each listen. Having it on as housecleaning music or while sitting on the patio doesn’t work for me. I have to set aside time to sit down with headphones on and listen. The instrumentation and production are complex and highly experimental. For example, the opening track, Facelift, consists of sections of different live performances, sometimes sped up, sometimes slowed down. It’s noisy and distorted in places before calming into a flute solo by Lyn Dobson, and ultimately ending in a collage of backwards loops. The second track, Slightly All the Time, is actually broken down into three separate instrumental sections. The third track, Moon in June, is the one I still struggle through due to the seemingly halfhearted vocal (the only vocal on the entire album) that lasts the first nine minutes. I’m just not sure what the point of it is. Perhaps I  should listen to the wispy lyrics a little closer. The song does contain some really cool bass and violin work, otherwise the first half sounds like a studio run-through prior to an actual recording before it really takes off for the next ten minutes.

Luna Kafé e-zine - Soft Machine: Moon In June

The final track, Out-Bloody-Rageous, is my favorite along with Facelift.  It goes in directions that remind me of the Grateful Dead’s Drums/Space segments. I settle into listening, get into the groove of it all, then without realizing when it happened they’d moved into something very different. But it’s still the same track, just ten minutes later. The final 3:20 reminds me of  Pink Floyd’s On the Run from Dark Side of the Moon, still almost three years in the future. Despite the occasional chaos, the overall interplay among band members Mike Ratledge (piano, organ), Hugh Hopper (bass), Robert Wyatt (drums), and Elton Dean (saxophone) – from whom Reg Dwight derived half his stage name – is remarkably balanced. There’s a lot of room in the four tracks for them to spread out.

ロスジェネたちの音楽夜話 第84話 Soft Machine 『Live In 1970 ...

It would be easy to say there are elements on Third I’ve heard on early King Crimson albums, but it’s true. Coltrane’s A Love Supreme as well. But isn’t this what we do when trying to become familiar with or understand something new to us? We look to other works to try and make sense of it. Any fans of Soft Machine, I’d appreciate suggestions on where to go next with this band. I’ll have more to say about musical comfort zones in tomorrow’s post. Thanks for reading.

Tracklist

Side One: Facelift

Side Two: Slightly All the Time

Side Three: Moon in June

Side Four: Out-Bloody-Rageous

-Stephen

Porcupine Tree, ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’ (2007)

https://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/635/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_(Soft_Machine_album)#Original_edition