50 Years Ago Today: Revisiting The Third Santana LP

Carlos Santana and the band upon which he had bestowed his name were at the crest of a tremendous wave of popularity in the autumn of 1971. Having unleashed their sizzling fusion of blues, rock, and Latin music at the Woodstock Festival in 1969—that entire set included in its entirety on the deluxe double-disc package of the eponymous debut album—the group had consolidated and extended its commercial gains even further with the release of their second album Abraxas and the attendant success of “Black Magic Woman”: the LP ascended to the number one sales position in the United States, a first for the still fledgling group. 

As suggested by the otherwise slight “Everything’s Coming Out Way,” the Santana ensemble was in a generally positive yet precarious state of flux, personally and artistically, upon the release of The Third Santana Album (it was given no official title). Moving more deeply into the roots of their music had some mixed results, but fortunately, personnel augmenting the group’s core sextet help maintain the imposing fusion, most notable of whom was young (at the time 15) guitarist Neal Schon (who later went on to form Journey with Santana keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie). 

Carlos executed some wicked exchanges with his precocious partner on “Taboo,” among others,  and the superb recording by Glen Kolotkin, in combination with the otherwise stellar production, suits the sizzling interaction of the players. There’s even some stereo panning that often became gimmicky during this era, but the sonic treatment is enormously effective in accentuating both the visceral and cerebral impact of musicianship heightened in intensity through the vocals and percussion contributions of Thomas ‘Coke’ Escovedo, who had toured with the group when his counterpart Jose ‘Chepito’Areas fell ill early in ’71.

All that said, the momentum generated through the four tracks on side one of the original vinyl issue—from the spooky “Batuka” through a frenetic “Toussaint L’Overture”–turns markedly erratic around “Guajira” and “Jungle Strut” on the flip. As a result, reprogramming bonus tracks on the first disc of the two in the 2006 Legacy Edition package presents the opportunity to sequence a near-hour long version of the album:  substituting “Gumbo, “Folsom Street-One” and “Banbye,” then retaining “Para Los Rumberos,” formulates a studio work decidedly different from and definitely superior to the version as originally issued. 

Instead of a somewhat tentative homage to source influences in the form of  “Everybody’s Everything,” evinced by the unimaginative presence of a horn section that sounds like an afterthought, there emerges a streamlined hard rock piece. laced with a formidable Latin undercurrent The combustible combination of musical diversity and pure power here remains the better part of the Santana band’s legacy to this day a half-century later. And, as if any reaffirmation of its reputation was necessary, in the aforementioned double-CD reissue of 2006, there’s a complete concert recording from the Fillmore West in 1971 (in actuality the final show at the famed San Francisco venue operated by late impresario Bill Graham). 

Apart from Rolie’s sensuous singing—hear especially “No One to Depend On–”most of the insinuating dynamics much in the music derives from Michael Shrieve’s versatility at his drum kit. His alternately delicate and utterly abandoned touch is altogether reminiscent of his solo as highlighted in the Woodstock movie. Meanwhile, this document of the stage is also notable for providing an early inkling of Carlos’ fascination with jazz (nurtured by the aforementioned drummer): Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way” was becoming a regular part of  Santana’s repertoire 

Soon after the release of Santana III, personal and creative friction rent asunder the original Santana. Carlos effectively forsook the mainstream marketplace by the mid-Seventies, pursuing an interest in more openly improvisational music with albums such as Caravanserai and Welcome, but, by late in that same decade, he had resumed his careerist bent with a unit sporting his surname on 1977’s Moonflower. He then effectively lost his muse through a string of erratic stints fronting shifting personnel, but did revive his career in more broadly commercial terms on the threshold of new millennium through the Supernatural album’s “Smooth;” perhaps not surprisingly, in 2021, he’s returned to the even more overtly mercenary likes of that approach after a reunion with the original Santana members and a bracing extension of their sound on Africa Speaks in 2019.

Now revered as a guitar hero and symbol of musical diversity with few, if any, peers in contemporary music,Carlos has taken a decidedly circuitous route to this prestigious position(s). There is, however, no mistaking the real source of his rarefied status, that is, the best of his work with Santana as on the now fifty-year old III.

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