I didn't know what this was when I picked it up. The jacket offers no band name or album title. Kind of like the Park Tavern on West Side Avenue in Jersey City; there's no way of knowing it's the Park Tavern unless you walk in, and once you're in, you never really want to leave.
Perhaps the band figured the crazy, intergalactic artwork would do the job. Once you open the gate, though, you know what you're getting into. This is Santana in 1971, a fire-breathing juggernaut of a band. A band in the truest sense of the word: Listening to this, even now from almost 40 years away, I get the sense that these guys came together like a championship team or like ions or like Voltron or something to get this thing done right, to rip through songs and light fires to stages and leave audiences in all sorts of shock and wonder.
This is a darker, more ferocious Santana than the band that debuted in 1969. "Batuka" opens the album with maddening hand percussion that builds and builds and lights the way for the scorching twin guitar leads from Carlos Santana and a rocking 17-year old Neal Schon before morphing into the super-groove of "No One to Depend On." By this point, I'm already set to submit, but the band keeps burning. There are handclaps and cowbells and shouts and whispers and trumpets and all sorts of psychedelic sway. This is straight-up guajira son, dirty blues, blistering rock, tripped-out fusion, and sweet, sweet soul. It kills.
The sound of this well-worn beat-to-shit Columbia 6-eye is remarkable for its great presence and stunning dynamic range. These guys are on full-throttle, but I find myself wanting to turn it up, turn it up, turn it up. The instruments never distort or become irritating in any way. My copy does suffer from some noise. All sorts: from the more common "pops" and "clicks" to some more disturbing swooshing effect at the opening of the album. (I am not sure what causes this particular noise, but I've heard something like it before, and I was able to clean it out of existence with my VPI 16.5 record-cleaning machine.) I'm looking forward to giving this record a good cleaning.
Jon Iverson once told me that the first three Santana albums stand up against the best three consecutive albums from any band ever. I still can't wait to get my hands on Abraxas, the band's second, and perhaps most popular release (next to that massively successful, TRL-assisted, compressed-to-hell Supernatural).