Santana: Abraxas

Album review
Santana: Abraxas



Label: Mobile Fidelity
Media: LP
Genre: Rock/pop

I’ll get right to the point: Abraxas fans, do not miss Mobile Fidelity’s astonishing new reissue of Santana’s 1970 Latin-spiced, blues-rock masterpiece. It will blow your mind. Never before have I heard such inner detail, texture, and wide dynamics, the music emerging from such a deeply quiet background, with such intense immediacy—or derived such sheer musical pleasure from this title.

More on the revelatory sound below, but first a bit on the technology behind it. Abraxas represents the first fruit of MoFi’s UltraDisc One-Step plating process, in which the mother and stamper steps are removed, thus eliminating two generations of loss from lacquer to LP. Put another way, that’s two generations closer to the original master tape. To explain, the traditional three-step process, which is used to maximize efficiency while pressing very large numbers of LPs, goes something like this: from tape to lacquer (positive), to father (negative), to mother (positive), to the stamper (negative), from which the LP is pressed. By contrast, MoFi’s UltraDisc One-Step plating process, to quote from company literature, “begins with the original master tapes and a meticulously cut set of lacquers. These lacquers are used to create a very fragile, pristine UD1S stamper called a ‘convert,’” which becomes the stamper for pressing the final LP.

There isn’t room here to describe every methodical step involved, but during a phone conversation with Josh Bizar of MoFi’s parent company Music Direct, I learned that it took two-and-a-half years for MoFi and RTI to perfect the One-Step plating and pressing process. And because the “convert” stampers are extremely delicate, requiring the utmost care in handling, once it “goes,” i.e., breaks, so too goes the prospect of pressing any more LPs. MoFi hopes to press 2500 copies of each One-Step title, but there are no guarantees.

Sonically, as I said, prepare to be astonished. From the almost ghostly emergence of Gregg Rolie’s opening piano chords and the shimmering percussion that introduce “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts,” you’ll hear exactly what I mean. We like to talk about black or quiet backgrounds, but I’m not sure I’ve heard any better than what’s embedded in these grooves. The instruments are so “there” I felt as if I were sitting in the control booth. And then, Carlos Santana’s signature stinging guitar tone cuts through the air like a rapier, settling into a dirty-sweet toned moan as bass and percussion move into the next section. David Brown’s funky, chugging electric bass digs clean and deep, and the Latin drums sway the groove forward with a delicacy and texture like you’ve never heard. Rolie’s electric piano again changes the mood until his organ riff appears that brings forth Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman.” It’s sonically thrilling in the best sense of the word, breathing fresh life into well-known music. MoFi’s previous Abraxas reissue (2007) was excellent, but this new One-Step edition blows it away.

The packaging, by the way, is deluxe in every way, from the beautifully made box to the individual jackets and sleeves for each LP. Finally, MoFi plans to release only two to three titles a year that will receive this extra-special handling. Like I said, don’t miss it. 

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  • primary artist, Santana

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