Santana 1972-1974, Part 6: Illuminations and Borboletta

Following their performance at Winterland in San Francisco on December 31, 1973, a show that closed a hectic year for Santana, everyone needed a rest. The band just completed six months of intense touring around the world. At the beginning of 1974 Carlos Santana eased his way into live performances with a few low key shows with John McLaughlin and another mighty spiritual and musical force – Alice Coltrane. Santana recalls that period: “Hanging around Turiya inspired me to write some spiritual melodies, and when she heard them she surprised me by coming up with some arrangements to go along with them—symphonic oceans of sound, tides flowing in and out.” Indeed Santana, collaborating with the band’s keyboardist Tom Coster, wrote a number of intriguing tunes. Alice Coltrane’s orchestration for strings is lush and serene, adding to the spiritual aura of the music.

Carlos Santana, Lotus album photo card

Alice Coltrane was in-between record label contracts, finishing her tenure with Impulse! Records and starting a new one with Warner Bros. During Santana’s rest from touring, the two used their mutual time off to record a collaboration album titled Illuminations. Santana fans who have thought that the music he recorded and performed live in the previous two years was as adventurous as he would go, had another thing coming. The music on that album, calm and energetic in equal amounts, was an even a bigger musical departure than Caravanserai and Welcome. This is as far afield as Santana had gone in his career. It was also the first album to have his spiritual name Devadip on the cover.

The first tune that came out of that collaboration became “Angel of Air/Angel of Water”. A magnificent instrumental piece full of rich orchestral strings and spiritual melodies. The album was recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, a space familiar to Alice Coltrane with enough room for a full string section.

The music picks up the intensity level on the centerpiece of the album, the 14-minute free and cosmic improvisation “Angel of Sunlight”. The track features two veterans of Miles Davis’ group, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland. Santana talked about that piece of music: “I love what Turiya played on harp and organ, especially on ‘Angel of Sunlight,’ which, like many of Turiya’s songs, opened with tabla and tamboura; two disciples of Sri Chinmoy played them. I played my solo, and the engineers got an amazing tone on my guitar that I think was partly because of the room but also because the Boogie amplifier I brought with me had a second volume knob, which let me play softly but still with a lot of intensity. In that session I was tiptoeing, walking on eggshells because of everyone there, so I wasn’t going to blast my guitar, but the Boogie helped me turn it down and still be loud in my own way.” Alice Coltrane also comes out of her otherwise tranquil mood on this tune and plays some far out runs on keyboards. Santana remembers: “My favorite moment on the whole album came right after I finished that solo. Suddenly Turiya blasted off like a spaceship, playing that Wurlitzer, bending the notes with her knees—she had some gizmo that stuck out of the side of the organ—and Jack and Dave and I all looked at each other like we were hanging on for dear life! It was one of the most intense things I ever heard her play.”

Santana’s musical journey during the period discussed in this article series reached a symbolic peak on that album, playing with John Coltrane’s widow and alumni members of Miles Davis’ band. He was in awe of the musicianship these artists demonstrated on recordings he held in high esteem. He summarized his experience: “For me, that album, being around Alice Coltrane and Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland and Armando Peraza, it made me feel like I was in the minor leagues with Abraxas, and now I’m in the big league because I’m with these musicians who I felt were equipped to swim in the Pacific Ocean. I’ve said this before: There’s the Pacific Ocean, there’s a big lake, there’s a swimming pool, and then there’s a bathtub. And I was moving between the bathtub and the swimming pool until I started hanging around with them, and I was like, “Wow. How do they do this work? How do they articulate with such facility and incredible skill?”

The collaboration proved a very positive experience for Alice Coltrane as well. She later remembered the recording sessions: “Santana was so happy, so buoyant, such a beautiful soul and everything was wonderful. Everything was like a new and wonderful, joyful experience. And he brought that youthful dynamic into everything that we did.”

We come back to the Santana band and the final album in this review. In May of 1974, after a hiatus of several months, the band reconvened in a recording studio. The resulting album would signal an end of an era for Santana, a turning point after which Santana turned from a band collective to Carlos Santana and hired musicians.

Borboletta front cover

The recording of the album Borboletta marked a number of lineup changes in the band, most importantly another shift of a lead singer. Leon Thomas left the band at the end of the 1973 Welcome tour, finding the intensity of touring with a major popular band too much. Leon Patillo, a San Francisco musician who in 1970 fronted the band Leo’s Creation and released the psychedelic soul album ‘This is the Beginning’, joined the ranks.

Leon Patillo

Patillo recalls the day he met Carlos Santana: “I remember driving from L.A. to San Francisco and going to his house for a meeting and a writing session. Carlos opened the door and greeted me with open arms like we’d known each other for a million years. He took me downstairs to where his studio was and showed me a song he was working on. I listened to what he was doing, sat down at the organ next to him, and he looked at me and said, ‘Oh my goodness, you can play too!”

One of the first tunes Patillo recorded with Santana was a reworking of the song ‘Mirage’ which he originally recorded in 1969 with Leo’s Creation on the album ‘This is the Beginning’.

Leon Patillo also sings lead on a tune written by Carlos Santana, one that remains close in style to the original Santana band. A review of the album from 1975 by Circus Raves magazine singles out that song: ”’Give and Take’ liquidizes a rich Moog background that serves as bottom for Jules Broussard’s sax wails. Timbales cut through the fluid wall of sound which is intermittently stabbed by Carlos’ guitar. The tune grows into what may well be the most interesting soldering of Latin, spiritual, Coltrane jazz and funky soul yet committed to vinyl.”

Borboletta marks the return of Santana’s original bass player David Brown to the fold. After making fantastic contributions to Santana’s albums and live shows in 1972 and 1973, Doug Rauch left the band to join David Bowie on his Diamond Dogs tour. Brown’s bass line on Canto de los Flores is very effective, an instrumental composed by Tom Coster:

The album produced one single, Practice What You Preach, a Carlos Santana composition.

The track opens with a soulful guitar solo that develops into an energetic song that is typical of the band’s tunes from that period, an unmistakable Santana sound with a light, jazz-influenced feel.

At the end of May 1974, after recording most of the tracks for the upcoming album, an unexpected event took place that put an end to that magnificent period in the band’s career. Michael Shrieve relates the story: “I got sick in the middle of the night and I literally thought I was gonna die. My brother took me to the hospital and I said ‘if I wake up alive I am going to do the things that I’ve been thinking about doing and leave the band’. I woke up alive, there was a tour ready to go and I said ‘I made this promise to myself on my death bed and I got to keep it’.” Carlos Santana adds: “We were almost done with the new album and getting ready for our first tour in six months when Shrieve got very sick and had to go into the hospital with kidney stones. I called Ndugu (Leon Chancler) – he played on one track for Borboletta because it looked like Shrieve needed more time to recover – and I asked him to come on the road with us.”

Michael Shrieve, Lotus album photo card

At the end of the European leg of the Welcome tour in 1973 Shrieve met Japanese composter and percussionist Stomu Yamashta. The two would go on to form the fantastic ensemble Go and keep collaborating on later projects, including the soundtrack to Paul Mazursky’s film Tempest in 1982. Shrieve would have likely left the band after completing the album even without his health issues at the time. He remembers the album as the least unified in terms of membership. For the first time he clashed with Carlos Santana in the studio: “This is the album were Carlos thought ‘this is mine’. Before it was a band called Santana. I left the band on Borboletta side 2 track 2. Flora did the vocals and Airto was in the studio. Carlos asked Airto if he would like to do the drums, and I was like ‘What are you talking about? You don’t ask him, you ask me.’ Airto said ‘let me hear it’. They played the track and he said, I’m not touching a thing on that track, its brilliant.’ That’s when I decided to leave the band. It wasn’t like that before.”

Carlos Santana later recalled the major impact of Shrieve departing the group: “Shrieve leaving Santana was the band’s final step in its evolution from being a collective to being a group with two leaders to finally being a group in which I alone was in charge. Shrieve was the last connection to the old band, the last person whom I would confer with and sometimes defer to.”

Sanana, post Borboletta lineup

One last tune to finish this article series, and aptly it is the last track on the last album from the period. Borboletta’s closing track is “Promise of a Fisherman”, written by the brilliant Brazilian composer Dorival Caymmi. Shrieve remembers the album as having a Brazilian concept (Borboletta means butterfly in Portuguese), recalling that “The album cover is from plates I used to see for sale in Brazil. There was an interesting album by Sergio Mendes, different than all his other albums. Promise of a fisherman was on it.” The album Shrieve refers to is Primal Roots, released in 1972, an excellent recording with Mendes exploring Brazilian folk songs – highly recommended.

A number of stellar musicians guest on this song, including then-current and past members of Return Forever: Stanley Clark on bass, Airto Moreira on drums and triangle and Flora Purim on vocals. Santana recalls a funny anecdote from the recording of the song: “We were playing ‘Promise of a Fisherman’ when I looked over at Armando and Airto, and they really seemed to be going at it musically, really pushing each other. Airto looked at me as if to say, ‘What’s with this guy?’ Later he asked me, ‘Is he always that competitive? He has those congas, and all I had was a triangle, but still it felt like he wanted to kick my ass.’”

The following resources were used during the writing of this article:

Carlos Santana’s excellent memoir The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light

A chat with Michael Shrieve, December 2022

Santanamigos, a great online resource for Santana’s history

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7 replies »

  1. Another great Santana article and yes, Armando was musically competitive! More triangle!!

  2. Thanks once again for the article. I really like a lot of stuff on this album. Sad to hear of the way it went between Carlos & Mike Shrieve. I really like the playing of Jules Broussard too. Promise of a Fisherman is an excellent sign off to this era.

  3. Excellent series of articles, as usual. I have to dissent, however, on a point of critical analysis. For many of the songs on Welcome, Carlos seems to be AWOL, allowing the band’s excellent percussion section to carry the momentum. This is probably understandable, given his heavy workload during the years leading up to Welcome—recording not only a Santana album in 1972 but also his duet with John McLaughlin AND the Illuminations album with Alice Coltrane. He must have been exhausted, and on Welcome he sounds it—so much of his phrasing seems to be just going through the motions in a rather dispirited fashion. The synthesizer noodling doesn’t really add much here either, despite the band’s track record of stellar keyboard work up to this point with founding member Gregg Rolie and his successor on keys Tom Coster. The vocals are smooth to the point of becoming what was later dubbed “easy listening”—once again the energy seems to be lacking. For a new listener—assuming anyone on the planet is left who doesn’t know Santana’s music—I would refer them instead to the first three albums plus the brilliant reunion of the original band on the recently released Santana IV. This was the sound that made Santana, and for good reason—it crackles with both originality and high energy.

    • >The vocals are smooth to the point of becoming what was later dubbed “easy listening”<

      Totally agree. During the mid-70s it was Leon Patillo, Leon Thomas, Luther Rabb – you name it – who was charged with putting some R&B into the band. After Gregg Rolie left, Santana trolled around for years to find the right vocal. In my opinion Santana was unsuccessful in finding the right vocalist because I don't think he ever made up his mind as to what he wanted in a lead vocal: blues, R&B, Soul, or Rock.

  4. The song “Mirage” was not a result from “(t)he working session that day” — the original version can be found on the aforementioned This Is The Beginning album that Leon had released almost four years earlier.

  5. “Shrieve leaving…was the band’s final step in its evolution from being a collective to being a group with two leaders to finally being a group in which I alone was in charge. Shrieve was the last connection to the old band, the last person whom I would confer with and sometimes defer to.”

    And honestly, it was the last time I ever bought a “Santana” album. To my [musician] ears, everything sounded formulaic and contrived after that. Carlos had lost his melodic sense of phrasing and to this day, is STILL playing the same tired old riffs nearly 50 years later. “Welcome” in my humble opinion, was the musical zenith of Santana’s career.

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