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Santana: Shape Shifter

Jeff Winbush By

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The sticker plastered to Shape Shifter proclaims this is the Santana album 20 years in the making. Actually, it's the first album in 13 years where the guitarist doesn't just seem like a sideman on his own records. Nobody is more deserving of a career-reviving success story than Mexican-born Santana who was rewarded after years of falling sales and critical disinterest by the nobody-saw-it-coming success of Supernatural (Arista, 1998) which sold a whopping 15 million copies and won 11 Grammys.

Unfortunately, Santana would spend the most of the next two decades chasing further Supernatural sales, by following Arista Records executive Clive Davis' formula of pairing the 64-year-old guitarist with younger, of-the-moment chart-toppers, no matter how ill-matched the pairing, reducing the band to token appearances or sidelined completely. All the while, Santana insisted in interviews how much he loved jazz and the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, whom he toured with in 1988.

After Guitar Heaven (Arista, 2010) failed to reach gold record sales, Santana has now recompensed the patience of the faithful fan with an honest-to-goodness Santana album. Shape Shifter is an album of instrumentals played by the regular band with Carlos' son, Salvador playing piano.

Shape Shifter is infused with an energy and furious guitar solos and Carlos sounds like he's having a lot of fun, but it is not jazz. For all his professed love of the genre, Santana isn't a jazz guitarist. What he is is a rock guitarist who plays on jazz albums, as he did when he stepped in for Shorter on This Is This (Columbia, 1985) the last Weather Report record.

A few of the songs on Shape Shifter are little more than loose jams. "Dom" begins nicely with Chester Thompson's keyboards, but doesn't build, instead just meanders to its conclusion. "Metatron" is an introduction for a song that seems incomplete.

"Never the Same Again" is more successful, as Carlos opens with a nylon-string acoustic guitar intro before switching over to electric for a gliding solo. The album is pretty, but most of the songs are built around Santana's guitar and Thompson's keyboards. Percussionists Raul Rekow and Karl Perazzo aren't given much to do until "Macumba In Budapest," which is a quintessential Santana jam. "Mr. Szabo" is a nod of Carlos' hat to Gabor Szabo, while the lone vocal track, "Eres La Luz" gives Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay an opportunity to strut their stuff.

Shape Shifter may not be a full-fledged return to the classic Santana sound, but it is the first recording in over a decade that harks back to the band's glory days and is a welcome respite from Santana "the pop star."

Track Listing: Shape Shifter; Dom; Nomad; Metatron; Angelica Faith; Never the Same Again; In the Light of A New Day; Spark of the Divine; Macumba in Budapest; Mr. Szabo; Eres La Luz; Canela; Ah, Sweet Dancer.

Personnel: Carlos Santana: guitars; Chester Thompson: keyboards; Benny Rietveld: bass; Dennis Chambers: drums; Raul Rekow: percussion; Karl Perazzo: percussion; Andy Vargas: vocals; Tony Lindsay: vocals; Salvador Santana: piano (7, 12, 13).

Title: Shape Shifter | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Starfaith Records

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