Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Santana - 1974 [1991] "Lotus"

Lotus is a 1974 live album recording of the San Franciscan latino rock band Santana at the Osaka Koseinenkin Hall, Osaka, Japan on 3-4 July 1973. It was originally released in 1974 as a triple vinyl LP in Japan only. The first U.S. release was in 1991 as a 2-CD set.

The original live recordings were mixed in 4-channel quadraphonic sound and released in the CBS SQ matrix system. The SQ encoding permits all 4 channels to be contained in a 2 channel stereo version, which is compatible with conventional stereo playback equipment.
Some releases of this album have been marked as "Quad" or "SQ" and some are not. However, all known releases of this album use the same SQ encoded 2 channel recordings. Therefore the 4 independent channels can still be heard on modern equipment provided that the listener has a proper SQ decoder and 4 channel playback system.

Long held as a talisman by Santana fans, who had to buy it as a triple-LP Japanese import before Columbia finally issued it on CD in 1991, Lotus is a live album that finds Carlos Santana and his octet (a.k.a. the New Santana Band) at a nexus between rock, Latin music, jazz fusion, and spiritually driven communiqués to the gods. Some of the early hits are performed, such as "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va," but long, intense instrumentals are the order of the day, as on the breathtaking "Incident at Neshabur," "Every Step of the Way," and "Toussaint L'Overture." 

Lotus was recorded during the heart of Santana's jazz-rock period. But whereas Caravanserai and Welcome (whose lineup is featured here) are relatively quiet, meditate affairs, Lotus is a fiery testament to a band that was at its peak. The guitar playing, mixing speaker-frying leads with more avant-garde sounds, foresees the style Pete Cosey would perfect with Miles Davis a year later; and the rhythm section has loosened up to the point were they can switch from groove to groove effortlessly. Leon Thomas contributes a few vocals ("Black Magic Woman" and his trademark yodelling on "Mr. Udo") but the music is almost entirely instrumental.
The long fusion jams -- "Every Step of the Way", "Toussaint L'Overture" and an absolutely bonkers "Incident at Neshabur" -- are definitely high points of this concert. But you can't overlook the 30 minute medley that closes disc 1 either. The only real weak spot is Mike Shrieve's long drum solo "Kyoto" (hey, this was the 70s). If a sound halfway between Caravanserai and Miles Davis's acid funk albums Agharta/Pangaea sounds exciting, you must hear this.

Many complaints have been lodged against this album including comments regarding the excess length of songs, the constant noodling, the missing presence of Carlos Santana, the lack of an overall melody, and poor sound quality.

To begin with, the length of the songs is excellently chosen. And believe it or not Supernatural fans, each song is well planned out. Most reviewers who have a beef with this album's length don't like jazz to begin with, and desire that Carlos keep within the bounds of his late 60's and late 90's hit making three minute song machine. The greatness of Lotus is its ability to take all of Carlos' beautiful melodies and expand them each into a whole new creation.

Despite the extended length of songs on Lotus, there is no excessive noodling. Each solo has a central rhythmic and melodic structure that was used to express in a moment what can never been repeated. Unlike earlier Santana albums, Carlos allows other musicians (i.e. excellent keyboards and Latin percussion) to express beautiful melodies over a palette of amazing chord progressions and tight rhythms. In addition Carlos is in his best recorded form, from the subtlety displayed on Samba Pa Ti to the incredible Incident at Neshabur. Lotus is pure genius if for nothing but the second disk of material. Carlos' guitar tone on Lotus is perfect in its ability to express cleanly when played gently and fire up when played with great passion.

Lotus is one of the single greatest achievement in guitar playing in terms of Santana's ability to harness and realize the melodic powers of the guitar. No other guitarist I have heard (Jimi, Django, Allman, Clapton, Beck, and even McLaughlin) has unlocked the mystery of a melodic, singable solo more completely than Carlos Santana did on this record.

In regards to the recording quality and mix, I believe it to be one of the best live album ever made. This album is not meant to sound up-front like a studio album or have lots of crowd noise like live albums made in the late 70's till today have. Lotus is meant to sound endless and reverberate with great warmth. The mic positioning, engineering, and mixing is top notch. Every instrument is balanced and every subtlety is audible and clear. If you have never tried to mix a live album, you would never know how hard it is to achieve the level of warmth and tonal quality Lotus produces.

Lotus is near the top of recorded music of all time. Many years after "Smooth" is forgotten, future generations and historians will look upon Lotus as one of the most important achievements in modern music history.

Lotus is a dream come true. A recording of two Santana concerts in Osaka, Japan in support of Caravanserai, it blends songs from the group's then-current (mid-70s) jazzy period with old favorites, and is dished out by both the "New Santana Band" of the time and the "Old Santana Band." Yes, a live Santana CD with Michael Shrieve, Chepito Areas, and Armando Peraza (New) all on percussion! Tom Coster remains most prominent with his Hammond organ, but Lotus also features Richard Kermode (New) on keyboards. In substance, only one song from Caravanserai is included, a great version of "Every Step of the Way," but Welcome is represented by "Samba de Sausalito" and the pretty "Yours Is the Light." Coster bedazzles on the rockers from the first three albums as well as Airto's Brazilian jazz "Xibaba," one of the best moments in so many great ones. There is a 16-minute, unforgettable version of "Incident at Neshabur," with an extended, lovely coda--What more could you ask for? Carlos's superpowered guitar is mesmerizing, always; the entire atmosphere is otherworldly, dark, beautiful, modern jazzy (there is also a nod to Chick Corea), and most of all, electrifying. Early Santana and Lotus rule. 

When "Lotus" was originally released as a vinyl Japanese-only import (1974), it was one of the most prized items among collectors. The packaging...nowhere near as important as the music itself...was a mind-blowing example of innovation and creativity with several fold-out posters and the sleeve that housed the three discs inside. That's one of the things that delayed the release of "Lotus" on CD for so many years...shrinking all of that wonder down into a 4.75" x 4.75" plastic box. They DID it...maybe not as spectacularly as the original 12 x 12 release...but it was magnificent packaging for what is basically Carlos Santana's "A Love Supreme." Seriously...if you like the pop stuff, more power to you. There's plenty of good stuff there. But this was the top of Santana's spiritual / fusion era. In 1973 he added "Devadip" to his name, which meant "the light of the lamp of the Supreme." That light burns brightly across "Lotus," especially on CD 2 (where most of the extended numbers reside, including the 15 minute "Incident at Neshabur"). As Santana fans know, there are "several different Santanas." This was the MILES Santana, the COLTRANE Santana. This is scary and amazing music played with so much mind-numbing passion that you have to wonder why there are people who don't "get" Santana. Get Lotus, and strap yourself in for one heck of a ride.

Track listing:

Disc 1
  1. Going Home
  2. A-1 Funk
  3. Every Step of the Way
  4. Black Magic Woman
  5. Gypsy Queen
  6. Oye Como Va
  7. Yours Is The Light
  8. Batuka
  9. Xibaba
  10. Stone Flower (Introduction)
  11. Waiting
  12. Castillos de Arena, Part 1 (Sand Castle)
  13. Free Angela
  14. Samba de Sausalito
Disc 2
  1. Mantra
  2. Kyoto
  3. Castillos de Arena, Part 2 (Sand Castle)
  4. Incident AT Neshabur
  5. Se A Cabo
  6. Samba Pa Ti
  7. Mr. Udo
  8. Toussaint L'Overture
Personnel: 

Carlos Santana (vocals, guitar, percussion); 
Tom Coster (vocals, electric piano, organ, keyboards, percussion); 
Richard Kermode (vocals, electric piano, keyboards, percussion); 
Armando Peraza (vocals, congas, bongos, percussion); 
José Chepitó Areas (vocals, congas, timbales, percussion); 
Leon Thomas (vocals, maracas, percussion, sound effects); 
Doug Rauch (guitar); 
Michael Shrieve (drums).

4 comments:

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  2. Santana is still pretty cool after all these years. Cheers.
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  3. Still have the fold-outs from my original LP's.

    ReplyDelete