May 15, 2012 will be a day of celebration for Santana fans, and not just the ones who celebrate any new Santana release. After all, his last album Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time is only a year and a half old. But Shape Shifter, as this latest one is called, will boast a lot of “first in a long times”: the first album of original material since 2005, the first non-Supernatural-esque star-studded stab at pop chart action since before that 1999 blockbuster and the first instrumental-focused album since 1987’s Blues For Salvador. As that and all the other prior Santana instrumental projects were credited to Carlos Santana himself, Shape Shifter is the first instrumental record credited instead to the Santana Band.
Carlos’ guitar out in front again is in itself is refreshing, as he’s lost none of his golden chops, and the owner of one of the most distinct, sweetly tube-heavy tones in all of rock guitar history serves up more of what attracted us to Santana in the first place. One of choice cuts on the new album is the smooth (but not “Smooth”) groover “Angelica Faith”.
Santana reconnects with his underappreciated ability to craft soul-drenched jazz fusion ballads, represented by such memorable tunes as “Europa,” “Aquamarine” and “Blues For Salvador.” “Salvador” was co-written with Santana’s keybaord player since the mid-80s, Chester Thompson, and once again he teams up with Thompson for “Angelica Faith.” It doesn’t take long to figure out the alternating pair of chord progressions on this song, and like the album as a whole, the production is slick. That’s nothing new for him, though, but neither is the jazzy melody and his unsurpassed ablity to cradle that melody. Wringing the emotion out with octaves, trills, extended notes, and a unflinching blues feel, Carlos returns to this neglected strength of his and…well, maybe it’s not 1970 again, but it at least feels like 1987.
That’s close enough.
Shape Shifter goes on sale May 15, by Starfaith Records.
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