Tuesday, 9 June 2015

"Abraxas" by SANTANA (2008 Mobile Fidelity ULTRADISC II Audiophile CD Remaster) - An Indepth Review by Mark Barry...

"…Is That You?" 

There is a long line of classic Rock albums given multiple CD reissues with each issue claiming to be sonically better than the last – and Santana’s 2nd album “Abraxas” from 1970 is no different. To my knowledge this is reissue number 4 – a 1980’s basic version best forgotten, a 1991 Mobile Fidelity ULTRADISC II audiophile CD remaster (UDCD 552), followed by a 2003 Song Legacy CD with 3 bonus live tracks and a proper Vic Anesini Remaster - and now this – a second MOFI “Original Master Recording” audiophile CD in 2008 using their GAIN 2 SYSTEM transfer. Here are the naked lady details…

US released April 2008 on Mobile Fidelity UDCD 775 (Barcode 821797077569) – Santana’s “Abraxas” comes in over-sized hard-card repro packaging that mimics the September 1970 original US LP – gatefold sleeve and all (37:30 minutes). It was originally released September 1970 in the USA on Columbia KC 30130 and November 1970 in the UK on CBS Records S 64087 (in a single sleeve without a poster – American originals had a beautiful black and white foldout poster of the six-piece band that is unfortunately AWOL in this repro). This Mobile Fidelity CD is a 24-Carat Gold Audiophile issue – itself housed in a protective gauze sleeve within a black and gold gatefold card inner that gives detailed information about their ULTRADISC II range and their patented GAIN 2 SYSTEM of remastering from the first generation Original Master Tape. It’s a limited edition and numbered on the rear in gold (up to 10,000).

1. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts
2. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen
3. Oye Coma Va
4. Incident At Neshabur
5. Se A Cabo [Side 2]
6. Mother’s Daughter
7. Samba Pa Ti
8. Hope You’re Feeling Better
9. El Nicoya

Mobile Fidelity used to only use ‘lift-lock’ jewel cases with barely any reference to the original packaging – but in the last six or seven years – most of their ULTRADISC II releases now come in these aesthetically pleasing card repro sleeves that at least give some recognition of the original artwork. It has to be said MOFI’s improved efforts still don’t really hold a candle against the superlative Japanese reissues on SHM-CD, SACD and now Platinum SHM-CD (they seem to have card repros down to a very fine art). The most obvious thing about this new issue is that you can barely read the album title on the famous and striking MATI painting that adorns the cover. The wordless colour photo that spread across the inner gatefold of original American LPs is here (with some new wording on it) but what would it have taken to reproduce the lovely poster as a separate foldout inlay? Instead we get a pointless gatefold colour repro of the album artwork again (albeit ‘without’ the album title and with more readable songwriting credits).

ROB LoVERDE and SHAWN R. BRITTON carried out the remaster at Mobile’s studios in Sebastopol, California using their GAIN 2 SYSTEM. According to the Net and discussion forums the big news is (although it doesn’t say this anywhere on the packaging) that a mastertape has been found that precedes all others and apparently has for the first time the ‘right’ STEREO channel separation on it (left and right) – whereas all previous issues (including their own) used the old ‘wrong’ version with the channels arse-about-face. Certainly the sonic results are impressive – especially in the dense bottom end of Bass and Percussion.

The opening piano, high hat and percussion tinkles rattling out of “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” (written by the band’s Conga player Mike Carabello) is newly clear and when the rhythm section kicks in – the bass and congas are fabulous (there is hiss at the outset but it dissipates). It segues into the double cover version of “Black Magic Woman” (Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) and “Gypsy Queen” (a Gabor Szabo song). The vocals are great and that big guitar break half way through is now muscular as it assaults your speakers. The funky single “Oye Coma Va” (a Tito Puente song) is probably best on here sonically – second only to that great bedsit-shagging song “Samba Pa Ti”. The wonderful instrumental “Samba Pa Ti” is hissy but still full of extraordinary presence (millions of babies ahoy).

Both the Jose “Chepito” Areas songs “Se A Cabo” (the rough translation from Spanish is “its over”) and the album finisher “El Nicoya” have great percussion definition even as Carlos lets it rip. The more rocky Gregg Rolie songs – “Mother’s Daughter” and “Hope You’re Feeling Better” break up the Latin rhythms nicely – and as the band lets fly – the guitars are suitably chunky and the vocals good too.

This is an impressive release – and makes me want to invest in the MOFI reissues of their 1969 debut and especially 1972’s “Caravanserai” with its gorgeous “Song Of The Wind”.

Is it worth the few extra quid/bucks? Absolutely…

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