Like its predecessor, “Supernatural,” released in 1999, Santana’s “Shaman” no doubt was an attempt by Clive Davis to replicate the success of the former album. This 2002 release is another disc that I’ve heard in my effort to hear all of Santana and the solo projects from Carlos Santana (1947-), in a more or less chronological fashion. I’ve made this effort because I believe it’s intriguing to chart the sounds Santana has been making since the late 1960’s, which is when Carlos Santana began fusing Blues with Latin and Afro Cuban music, with his early configuration of musicians.
It’s interesting how Santana’s music has often reflected and been influenced by certain Pop/Rock trends through the decades. Although his “band” has probably changed personnel more than any other major group, I’ve found that like one of his idols, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana has always been able to enlist the services of topnotch musicians including many from Davis’ stable, such as Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, John McLaughlin, Tony Williams, and Herbie Hancock.
I suppose that my favorite Santana era was the late 1960’s through the early 1970’s. At that time, his Woodstock band and subsequent immediate bands incorporated Jazz elements, as heard on “Caravanserai” (1972), “Welcome” (1973) and “Borboletta” (1974), thereby pushing the envelope of this type of music. In other words, these are the ones that matter the most to me. This isn’t to say that Carlos Santana didn’t produce other fine music, both as a solo performer and with his Santana band, but somehow, it wasn’t as “vital.”
Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed all of his albums to a greater or lesser degree, even when they’ve ventured into pure Pop territory. This is simply because I’ve found that even the “worst” Santana albums contain at least two or three really good songs. I’m often pleasantly surprised by the array of personnel employed, the use of a wide variety of instruments, and the interesting tone colors which can ensue. I’m not a listener who likes Carlos Santana’s albums simply because of his unique and beautiful guitar sound; although, this is often a major factor. The fact is that his playing is just one ingredient of some very good music. However, I will say that I can’t think of any other Rock guitarist who places such a high premium on beauty, for its own sake. In other words, his music is rarely less than “pleasant,” even if it occasionally degenerates into the commercial Pop drivel.
This brings me back to “Shaman.” If anything, like its lengthy predecessor, this approximately 75-minute album should be known as a “Carlos Santana” album versus a “Santana” album, as there is no clear sense of an actual band at work here. It’s a disc of collaborations with many different Rock/Pop/Hip Hop artists, which Clive Davis obviously thought would appeal to a broad listener spectrum, and thereby follow in the sales and awards footsteps of “Supernatural.” Although always a strong guitar presence and a great artist on his own albums, Carlos Santana has only four writing credits out of the 16 tunes on “Shaman.” By this yardstick, “Supernatural” should also bear the “Carlos Santana” versus the “Santana” moniker.
Is this album nice? Sure, and I genuinely liked songs such as “Adouma,” “Foo Foo” and “Aye Aye Aye.” Many of the other songs performed by Seal, Michelle Branch, Chad Kroeger, and even Placido Domingo (!) will appeal to some people more than others. In the main, I wasn’t too crazy about them. This was a VERY slickly produced effort, and something of a stylistic hodgepodge.
As I said earlier, at least here, Carlos Santana made “nice” music, but seemed bent on playing it safe. I’ll continue to listen to any of his albums I haven’t heard, to gain a complete picture of his artistry. As long as I don’t set my expectations too high, I’m sure that I won’t regret the effort! I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that even at their worst, “Santana” or “Carlos Santana” albums always give me some satisfaction.