Multi Dimensional Warrior
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2008, Volume 15, #10
Written by John Metzger
Tue October 14, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Numerous retrospectives have been assembled from the many recordings that Carlos Santana has made over the years. Not surprisingly, however, all of them have been built around the same suite of songs: Oye Como Va, Black Magic Woman, Evil Ways, and Everybody’s Everything, among them. Because they hold such tremendous commercial appeal, record labels rarely waver from including hit singles whenever an overview of a performer’s career is crafted. Although this approach maximizes profits, it also is a strategy that artistically yields diminishing returns because, more often than not, each iteration says less about its subject than the effort that preceded it. To counter this, companies have turned toward concocting comprehensive multi-disc collections rather than mere 10-track endeavors, frequently peppering them with previously unavailable archival material to lure devoted followers as well as casual fans. Nevertheless, there rarely is more than one opportunity to get a boxed set right.
Despite his constant efforts to chase the charts, Santana’s appeal to pop music fans has waxed and waned from year to year. With the release of Supernatural in 1999, however, he once again broke through to the mainstream, winning a slew of Grammy Awards in the process. Considering his success of late, it wouldn’t be a mistake to view Multi Dimensional Warrior, the latest retrospective glimpse at Santana’s career, as a contemporary attempt at summarizing his return to stardom, and in a sense, this is precisely what the outing is. Refreshingly, though, Multi Dimensional Warrior follows a completely different path to its destination. Forsaking the familiar fare from his canon, the guitarist — who sculpted the endeavor himself — used an array of lesser known songs to paint a wide-sweeping portrait of his efforts. In fact, all of his recent collaborations with contemporary pop stars are noticeably absent from Multi Dimensional Warrior, leaving the collection free to dig deeper and uncover the diverse textures in which he still revels.
Anyone who has followed Santana’s career closely likely is aware that there always have been two distinct facets to his output. Not only does he have an unwavering desire to fit within the landscape of the pop music scene, but he also has never failed to smash stylistic barriers with his exploratory improvisations. To emphasize these sometimes opposing tendencies, Multi Dimensional Warrior is split evenly between vocal tracks and instrumental passages, each of which has been sequestered on its own disc. Nevertheless, within each subset it is possible to hear the yin and yang that, for better or for worse, have tugged and pulled at everything Santana has touched since issuing his self-titled debut in 1969.
Forget for a moment that the bulk of Right Now sounds like a funky version of Journey’s middle-of-the-road brand of power pop. Undeniably, the heart of the song is designed specifically to fit within the framework of commercial radio circa 1985 — which is, after all, what Santana always has tried to accomplish with his work. Its conclusion, however, deftly moves through a riveting assault of driving, Latin rhythms. By contrast, on the non-vocal performances, Santana sheds his R&B inclinations in order to emphasize his fondness for jazz and blues styles. Yet, at the same time, he laces his evocative and moody invocations with synthesizers and keyboards, which inevitably tie these passages back to his pop-oriented persona.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to Santana’s approach on Multi Dimensional Warrior is that more than three-quarters of the material that he selected for inclusion on the set was culled from the albums that he has released throughout the past 23 years. During this time, pop music increasingly has become a manufactured commodity that is too slick for its own good. For Santana, trying to mold his work to achieve placement alongside contemporary artists inevitably stifles his creative energy and does some serious damage to his compositions. His guitar solos remain electrifying, but wading through the mediocrity — particularly during many of the cuts on the first half of the endeavor — is nearly unbearable.
In the end, Multi Dimensional Warrior draws nearly identical conclusions about his output as the numerous other compilations in his canon. Although it places the best possible spin upon his joyful affirmations — which at their core have changed very little over the years — it also is impossible to mistake the organic essence that erupts from Samba Pa Ti, one of the few cuts to be featured from his early days. Newcomers to Santana’s work likely will find Multi Dimensional Warrior to be rather enlightening, while longtime fans will drift in and out of focus, gravitating primarily to the moments when he simply plays his guitar. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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