CD Review of Multi Dimensional Warrior by Santana
Recommended if you like
Neal Schon, John McLaughlin,
Eric Clapton
Label
Columbia/Arista/Legacy
Santana:
Multi Dimensional Warrior

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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C
arlos Santana is an odd bird. He’s a super-talented mega-force to be reckoned with, but an odd bird nonetheless. What else can you call the guy whose spiritual force is a being he calls Metatron (which has nothing to do with Autobots or Decepticons, believe it or not)? And how about all those wacky quotes he committed to the camera when interviewed for the Miles Davis documentary Miles Elecric: A Different Kind of Blue, epitomized by his assessment that Miles’ performance at the Isle of Wight in 1970 “converted a lot of people to multi-dimensional consciousness”?

Now, take a look at the cover art for Multi Dimensional Warrior (ah, was that quote perhaps a five years in advance marketing tool?) – yes, the Indian artwork and images have been typical of Santana’s overall style since the early 1970s, and yet, the juxtaposition with photos of Carlos donning woolen caps, baseball hats, t-shirts and jeans just never seems quite right.

The weird and/or uncomfortable aesthetic juxtapositions continue within the musical contents of Multi Dimensional Warrior, a double-CD compilation of mostly obscure album tracks whose release strategically arrives within the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month (which itself is in an unlikely position on the calendar, in that it starts on September 15 and ends on October 15).

Divided into a disc of vocal tunes and a disc of instrumentals, the idea of compiling two CDs of Santana tracks personally chosen by Carlos to, as the album’s press release puts it, “create an engaging journey through a soundscape of moods and feelings,” looks good on paper. Really, it does! One can only listen to Abraxas and Moonflower so many times before yearning to find out what other delights await within Santana’s sprawling, inconsistent catalog without having to resort to a “greatest hits” collection. In fact, the closest thing to a hit this set includes is the classic guitar showcase ballad “Samba Pa Ti,” from Abraxas of course, and another perennial favorite instrumental, “Europa.” So in that regard, there will be many “new” moments to be experienced by the casual fan here.

The bad news, however, is that this set makes it all too obvious that the only thing consistent about Santana’s work is his awesome guitar playing. Between the constantly changing singers, drastic changes in production values, and Carlos’ frequent forays away from rock n’ roll and jazz and into new age territory, Santana’s work often substitutes variety for consistency in sound. Few of his peers escaped tacky-sounding synth keys in the ‘80s, and Carlos was certainly not one of the exceptions. Most of the ‘80s tracks on this disc are marred by those very keyboard sounds, which do not serve Carlos’ guitar leads well. And his spoken part of “Let There Be Light,” which opens the set, could have been a serious tone-setter, but in light of the narrator’s casual appearance, it doesn’t come off quite that way (yes, Carlos is asking us to look “beyond appearances,” but human nature is a mighty tough beast to fight).

The best moments of Multi Dimensional Warrior do carry carry Carlos’ message of spiritual positivity without any hindrances. His cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Right On,” while lacking the grit and grease of the original, is still relevant. Hearing Buddy Miles’ soulful vocals on “Praise” alone will raise a smile. The Jaco-like bass figures of David Margen elevate “Aqua Marine” to a sublime level. And after all the mega-hits that have defined his last decade, it’s especially welcome to have some new light shone on the excellent instrumentals “El Farol” (with a melody reminiscent of “Fly Me to the Moon,” from 1999’s Supernatural) and “Victory Is Won” (from 2002’s Shaman). Given all the changes the world – and Santana – have gone through over the past four decades, it’s laudable in and of itself that Santana’s spiritual focus hasn’t wavered, which is perhaps the highest achievement this collection expresses. Namasté.

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