on 2 October 2000
This exuberant debut album from 1972 featuring a 17-piece line-up of accomplished studio musicians from the San Francisco Bay area enjoyed only moderate success in the wake of the first three SANTANA albums. Its mastermind, maverick percussionist and regular Santana collaborator (and fellow Mexican) Coke Escovedo created an inspired big band version of the aforementioned Latin-Rock pioneers but expanded the musical and instrumental spectrum considerably towards funk, soul and jazz. He clearly aimed also for more authenticity and originality as far as the Central and South American ingredients and influences of his eclectic musical hotchpotch were concerned, a tendency further illustrated by the extensive use of Spanish lyrics.
The result was a milestone of early crossover pop music - a flamboyant, powerful and mesmerizing amalgam of percussion-driven Salsa-Rock and fiery Latin-Soul, relentlessly turbo-charged with steaming brass outbursts and passionate funk workouts which sound furious and mighty like a tropical storm ravishing a music shop. The rich percussive textures and arrangements range effortlessly from intense and frantic to subtle and jazzy - a dazzling versatility that is derived from discipline, instrumental excellence and improvisational experience. The music simply oozes energy, freshness and joie de vivre, and it is ever so perceptible that a very good time was had by all during the recording sessions.
Admittedly, there are some fairly undisguised evocations of 'period influences' (Sly Stone / P-Funk / Earth, Wind & Fire, to name the most obvious ones) but depending on individual taste those may be regarded as assets rather than misdirection.
Even the two fervent but heavy-handed ballads "Empty Prophet" and "Love not then", which at times veer too much toward pathos and melodrama for their own good, are largely redeemed by the panache and soulful depth of the vocal interpretations.
The Azteca line-up featured four different vocalists, amongst them Rico Reyes and brother Pete Escovedo, a four-piece horn section and Santana's Neal Schon contributing lead guitar on three tracks.
The group followed up this debut with the far less convincing "Pyramid of the Moon" (1973), a half-hearted offering which overemphasized jazz elements and structures in a somewhat contrived manner, sacrificing many of the strengths of their exciting first album (i.e. spontaneity, lashings of Latin temperament and joyous celebration) in favour of cold technical complexity and pretentious experimentation.
(Coke Escovedo recorded a string of solo albums in the 70s and 80s before he died in 1986. He was the uncle of Sheila E.(Escovedo), glamorous Prince protege and percussionist.)
on 1 August 2008
My beloved Azteca, I first found their second album: Pyramid of the Moon
about 1973/4 and fell in love with the sheer luxury of the warm latin-fusion rock rythms and sounds. Many years later i came across this album their first!
It took me a while to get into this album and appreciate it's immaculate style. ( i suppose their second album was were commerical)
Possibly one of the greatest founders of this music for it;s time ever.
A must for those on the never ending journey into the depths of this wonderful, life-changing music