- Shape Shifter
Shape Shifter finds Santana in a welcome return to form as an artist rather than as a commercial hitmaker sharing the spotlight with one pop star after another. An open and giving musician, his last four studio releases became overwhelmed by a formulaic run of guest appearances that ended up watering down the musical fire he’s able to create on his own with his backing band. This became especially frustrating since Santana’s two vocalists – Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay – have proven more than capable during concert appearances. Both sing on “Eres La Luz,” the new album’s only non-instrumental number.
With material going back to the late ‘90s including some that seeped into past concerts this project has been meticulously planned out. Inspired by Native peoples around the world, Carlos Santana uses the music as a narrative travelogue connecting the Native Americans in North and South America to those on other continents. “Spark of the Divine” presents an upbeat, groove-laden Latin track that’s highlighted by Raul Rekow (congas) and Karl Perazzo (percussion) then moves to the other end of the world on “Macumba In Budapest.” Earlier, he covers “Dom” by Senegalese act Toure Kinda while “Nomad” sounds like an update to the group’s Fillmore West days in San Francisco.
On an album built on instrumentals, there are moments when the atmosphere and the clean production can supplant melodic power but that’s a tolerable step to make this journey. “Canela” sparkles with the fierce vibrancy Santana brings to his instrument while “In the Light of a New Day” evokes Jeff Beck’s “Blow By Blow” period. And, in the context of “Space Shifter” it’s merely one form that seamlessly morphs into another. On such a well thought-out release it’s not surprising to hear the the lyrical guitar playing on the title track and “Ah, Sweet Dancer” but also find that they act as bookends to an album that doesn’t need words.