Considering the revivalist creative spirit of the 80’s, it was still surprising that a musician as innovative and distinctive as Carlos Santana was not only still around but had never went away. Signed to Columbia,his music kept reaching the people. And thereby producing an audience-especially when one of his fusions of the contemporary sounds of the given time period impacted strongly on them. All the same, the Mexican American spirituality and Carlos’s 60’s type idealism hadn’t left him either.
During 1987, with social movements such as the ones to end Apartheid in Africa and even the AIDS activism of Act Up were showcasing that positive social protest was alas not dead during the last years of Reaganomics. On this album Santana expanded the hybrid band he was going for to include both Genesis’s Chester Thompson and Graham Lear (himself a Gino Vannelli alumbi) as drummers,along with bringing back keyboardist Tom Coster and bassist Alphonso Johnson into the mix.
In addition to guesting blues icons Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, this album also marked the return of another Santana alumni in Buddy Miles-lead vocalist for this potent album. “Veracruz” opens this album on the note much of it maintains: heavy duty uptempo danceable funk with Minneapolis style synthesizer riffs and some mean bass lines. With the harmonica solo of Junior Welles here its clear that,outside the instrumentation this song is also squarely in the 12 bar electric blues tradition. Never a surprise in any funk but it really sticks out strong on this one.
“Once It’s Gotcha” is right in the same heavy funk vein. “Songs Of Freedom”, “Deeper,Dig Deeper”and “Praise” are all right there too. And on them Santana has re-introduced something that the best of funk is always wise to embrace: a strong humanitarian consciousness in the lyrics. “She Can’t Let Go” is a slower tune with a chill styled aura about the moaning electronics and the dynamically intense melody of the chorus. “Love Is You” is a very pretty instrumental-with a strong contemporary jazz/pop flavor with Coster’s glassy synthesizer playing the dreamy melody with Santana’s spirited soloing.
“Before We Go” has a deep gospel/soul flavor about it while “Mandella” is a deeply fluid African inspired instrumental jam that gets everyone on board instrumentally. The album rounds out with the break rhythm oriented and brooding dance/rock of “Victim Of Circumstance”. Two things characterize this album from start to finish. For one, every song on the album are strongly based in soul/funk and are very danceable. This doesn’t have the typical bed of percussion that you’ll find on most Santana albums. Its more integrated into the steady rhythms,which always stay firmly on the one.
Yet Freedom still holds onto the funk era ethnic identification that Santana always held. The production is just as contemporary as it had been on Santana’s previous album Beyond Appearances. Difference is a more live instrumental flavor is strongly showcased here. Another important element of this album is that it truly lives up to its title both lyrically and conceptually. The focus is squarely on both romantic love and the love that humanity has (and should have) for one another as well. Santana are respected both by musicians musicians and as “classic rock” survivors.
That well rounded respect of Santana’s musical ethic is why I’d highly recommend this album. Both in lyrical and instrumental terms. And to anyone who thought the entirety of the 1980’s represented musical soullessness. Its an album of the band that I personally discovered long after it came it. But it still felt extremely familiar. True, Santana didn’t have the capability of ever being soulless as far as I’m concerned. And in a way, that is a big reason as to why this album can effectively serve as such a high example of what it is.