Friday, November 13, 2009

Michael Fremer Review

I am very proud to continue our new feature (look for this every Friday), music reviews that are written by the senior contributing editor of Stereophile magazine- Michael Fremer. It has been a pleasure to speak with Michael and learn more about audio sound and equipment. In fact, his new DVD, "It's A Vinyl World, After All" has hit the shelves and is selling out very quickly. This is a must have for anybody who loves vinyl, it is a true masterpiece.


Santana (reissue) Lotus
Sony-Japan/Speakers Corner CBS 66 325/(81047/48/49) 3 180g LPs
Produced by: The New Santana BandEngineered by: Tomoo Suzuki
Mixed by: Tomoo Suzuki, Hideto Isoda
Mastered by: Maarten de Boer at UMG Berliner

Review by: Michael Fremer

Rare, desirable and expensive when first issued in 1973 as a triple LP set in Japan where it was recorded and available in America only as a hard to get import, Lotus didn’t make it to CD until the earl 1990s.

Speakers Corner has done an incredible job of reproducing the original triple gatefold psychedelic/pan-spiritual packaging and double full color posters that made this release such a physical treasure and more importantly, the Pallas pressing quality more than lives up to the original’s pristine sound and silent backgrounds. There’s a moment of silence at the beginning so perfectly quiet that you’ll wonder if your system has suddenly shut down.

However, in retrospect, the music doesn’t quite live up to the ambitiousness of the packaging. At least to me, but then I never was a huge Santana fan to begin with, so that’s just me.

The live setting allows Carlos Santana, who was in a jazz/spiritual musical phase at the time, to stretch out and take long extended solos that were more about speed and bombast than truly interesting musical ideas. He’s got the great Leon Thomas on vocals but the material doesn’t give Mr. Thomas the same latitude to produce the otherworldly yodels and other deeply involving pyrotechnics he delivered on Karma (Impulse A-9181) his astonishing collaboration with Pharoah Sanders (an album that contained the tune “The Creator Has a Master Plan” that I once parodied as “The Creator Has a Master Key”).

As you listen through the six sides of latino-rock, Santana’s ideas seem tame and limited compared to those of John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra that surely provided some of the inspiration for this version of Santana.

There’s lots of slinky, percussive latino-charged clanging and banging on Timbales and Congas and other fireworks that keep the Japanese crowd tuned in and in a rhythmic trance, but listening all these years later at home, you’re left with many stretches of clich├ęd jejune filler as the group covers hits like Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman,” Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen,” Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” and works by other composers.

Tom Coster’s bombastic Hammond Organ becomes fairly obtrusive after a while (or damned annoying depending upon your perspective and tolerance) and when Santana can’t think of anything to play he resorts to quoting Coltrane solos. A little of this goes a long way.

On the other hand, one can only imagine how the soaring sense of liberation that Santana’s feedback and reverb drenched speed-guitar produced, affected the regimented Japanese mindset of that era. Combine that with the exotic Latin rhythms and clanging percussion and you have a sound that must have flipped plenty of switches that day. Whether it still does now is a personal matter only you can decide.

The recording is excellent for a live set in a large venue. There’s a good deal of P.A. leakage, which is unavoidable but the engineering team has managed to keep it under control so it does more to suggest the enormity of the space than it does put the proceedings underwater, which often results from such recording conditions.

The sonics are never less than exciting, even when the music isn’t. If you’re a huge Santana fan generally, or a fan of this particular record specifically, don’t let me throw cold water on your flames: you won’t get a better sounding or packaged reissue of this 35+ year old classic and you can bet it won’t be around forever or for long for that matter. Take note as you disassemble the complex packaging or you'll have trouble putting it back together. It should come with re-assembly instructions!

SOURCE: Reprinted By Permission

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