New Release (Starfaith)
After the diminishing returns of Supernatural knockoffs and the outright disaster of Guitar Heaven, Carlos Santana had no choice but to start making real music again. And the (nearly) all-instrumental Shape Shifter harks back to the days when his guru was Sri Chinmoy instead of Clive Davis. Definitely a rock rather than a jazz album, it’s less a new direction than a return to base: String together the instrumental tracks from any handful of peak-era Santana albums and you’d get something like this. “Angelica Faith” is the latest in the string of samba-influenced ballads that includes “Samba Pa Ti” and “Europa” (the latter seems to be quoted in the fadeout). And after an intro of acoustic guitar and Native American chanting, the title track becomes a Latin-rock barnburner harking back to the Fillmore days, complete with a vintage-sounding organ solo from Chester Thompson. Despite the lack of vocals there are many memorable tunes here (“Never the Same Again” is surprisingly Bacharach-ish), and a refreshing live-band production. And it’s good to hear Carlos’ guitar running the show again, instead of just plugging solos into slickly produced pop tracks.
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