Friday, April 24, 2009


As I move my pitiable way through the exigencies of ceasing to be a lush (and, as it turns out, that Lost Weekend-cold sweat game is of a greater veracity than one might expect), a brief update:

Santana, "[untitled]," live recording, c. 1974 (?)
Carlos Santana has done such an exquisite job of making himself an irrelevant joke over the last two decades that we may forget his genuine attempts, at one point, to charge toward a genuinely syncretic music drawing in Latin ostinati, rock sonorities, and modal-jazz open-endedness, and the band assembled in this clip was a very special one: Michael Shrieve, the really rather extraordinary drummer who was copping Elvin licks in front of 900,000 people at Woodstock when he was 16 (!), was finding his way to a new subtlety and sophistication; Richard Kermode and Tom Coster were forging ahead into both au courant synth textures and McCoy Tyner-style harmonics; presumably little need be said of the excellent Doug Rauch/Chepito Areas/Armando Peraza rhythm line-up; and in this briefest of moments, Santana instituted a managerial coup de gras by getting Leon Thomas, probably best known for his astonishing performances on Pharoah Sanders' Karma LP and particularly the half-hour sonic orgy "The Creator Has a Master Plan," to connect the group to both gritty-ass funk and out-jazz spiritualism (Thomas' '72 solo disc Blues and the Soulful Truth comes highly recommended as an exemplar of both, by the way). Unfortunately, the best work of this lineup was completed almost entirely before Thomas showed up: 1972's brilliant Caravanserai and the '73 Santana/John McLaughlin joint venture Love, Devotion, Surrender represent the least compromised vision of what the band could've become, and by the next year's Welcome (Thomas' first studio appearance), Carlos was already taming the wilder impulses of his group in an apparent bid for R&B radio play (not that there isn't some worthwhile Latin-accented soul music on that record).

[As a side note, it's very difficult to find Michael Shrieve's 1994 solo disc Two Doors, but the effort is eminently worthwhile: an interesting two-trios concept (the first half features Shrieve with bassist Jonas Hellborg and guitar genius Shawn Lane, who's allowed on the album as nowhere else in his brief output to dispense with shred-wank clichés and get to the real line-carving; the second, guitarist Bill Frisell, at his least White-hokey best, and organist Wayne Horvitz) pays off immensely, the compositions one and all transcend yr stereotypical drummer-goes-solo two-chord funk vamps, and Lane's tendency to vocalize along with his soloing takes the often Arabic-tinged chord progressions into electric muezzin territory.]

Leon Thomas, "China Doll," Blues and the Soulful Truth (1972)
The YouTube overcompression/bad vinyl master/whatever it is drops a dollop of ehhhh on this, sonics-wise, but hopefully something of Thomas' future-forward avant-R&B aesthetic will come through. It's one of the more restrained cuts from the record, relatively low on the truly over-the-top back-at-the-chicken-shack histrionics of "Let's Go Down to Lucy" or the Middle Eastern modal engagement of "Gypsy Queen" and "Shape Your Mind to Die," but he gets inside the curious Afro-Oriental arrangement and hits the rare pitch that allows him to riff around Asian pentatonics and deliver lines about grrrls lookin' so good he wanna be speaking Chinese with the necessary self-effacement.

1 comment:

Natasha Rosen said...

The Leon Thomas is VERY seventies. I feel like Shaft should be playing in the background and he should be on his way to the village to meet up with his 'lady friend.'

hey, also I commented on *The Recognitions* quote. It's on my page.

Later, NR