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Santana - Abraxas Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 May 2000
Abraxas (5.1)
HDS, 2000
| Performance 9 | Sound 6.5 |

ImageFor over 30 years and the entire history of high-end audio, Carlos Santana has been one of the elite guitar heroes cranking out salsa-flavored, Latin-inspired rock records that have captivated generations of music enthusiasts. In recent years, the music of Carlos Santana has exploded in popularity and transcended classic rock status to gain airplay on oldies, soul and alternative rock stations. Santana’s resurgence is no coincidence when you consider the musical and commercial success of Latin-pop acts like Ricky Martin, Enrique Eglasias, Mark Anthony, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez. Consider a modern Santana record, complete with guest performances from Rob Thomas (Matchbox 20), Dave Matthews, Wyclef Jean (The Fugees), Lauryn Hill and Eric Clapton, along with a handful of Grammys, and you have an argument for Carlos Santana being one of the biggest rock stars on the planet – again.

1970’s ‘Abraxas’ is the record that broke Carlos Santana into superstardom. Featuring wild percussion, flaming guitar melodies and devastating grooves, ‘Abraxas’ has been a crossover hit and a classic rock anthem for years. The 5.1 mix of ‘Abraxas’ gives a fresh, three-dimensional look and sound to this classic album. The idea of re-mixing a record this familiar is a risky one. We’ve heard these jams hundreds if not thousands of times, which can serve to heighten criticism of a new twist on an old favorite.

The overall sound of the 5.1 HDS release of ‘Abraxas’ is a bit dark in comparison to some of the more modern 5.1 – 20/24 bit releases now on the market. Consider the fact that studio sessions for this record took place some time in 1969, when multi-track recording equipment was barely five years old, and you’ll appreciate how resolute this mix is. Compare the mix to Sting’s ‘Brand New Day’ or ‘Boyz II Men II,’ and you’ll be bummed.

The most familiar track on ‘Abraxas’ is "Black Magic Woman," a tune that spreads a tasty array of percussive trickery all over the 360 degree soundstage. When the vocals come in, the subtle strummings of Santana move to the rear tracks, while the front three channels present a very clear and far more resolute picture of what is in front of you. The sound is analog, mellow and warm. Towards the end of the track, Santana gets into a call and response solo section where his guitar chops are panned from front to back and side to side. Things are moving fast and there is a lot to listen for. It is quite different than the traditional two-channel mix. It may take you two or three times through this often-heard cut to appreciate the new mix, but its increased resolution and 5.1 trickery shows that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

"Oye Como Va" is the first cut to show me why I wasn’t crazy for investing in $2,000-a-pair rear channels and a $5,000 Proceed AMP 5 power amplifier. Unlike "Black Magic Woman," the track "Oye Como Va" focuses Santana mainly in the rear channels, while directing the vocals and smoking organ to the front. This mix is very different than the two-channel version. However, it offers far more space and depth. The best demonstration of just how amazing the resolution on the record is has the little maracas and percussive instruments mixed to the front left of the soundstage. They jump right out of your speakers and it is hard to believe they were recorded in 1969.

"Samba Pa Ti" and "Hope You’re Feeling Better" are also strong tracks from ‘Abraxas,’ a record that should be in every rock enthusiast’s collection in one form or another. The 5.1 mix of ‘Abraxas’ is not an exact copy of the original record, nor should it have been. If you grew up listening to this record, it may take you a while to get used to hearing Mr. Santana mixed into the rear channels. Factor in the increased resolution of this 20-bit CD and the increased space and depth of the 5.1 mix, and you may find that you will be hearing new elements of a favorite old record all over again or perhaps for the first time.

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