Reissued for the second time, the newly minted Santana III: Legacy Edition augments the original album with a trio of previously unreleased studio tracks, the edited single No One to Depend On, and the entirety of Santana’s performance at the Fillmore West on July 4, 1971. While it’s true that Santana III truly didn’t break new ground, which undoubtedly explains why it frequently receives less attention than Abraxus, it was a logical extension to as well as a refinement of the ensemble’s surreal blend of heady instrumental jams, soulful pop, and titillating Latin-bred percussion, all of which was tied together by the prismatic sound of Carlos Santana’s expressive, liquid crystal guitar. With the funky, rhythmic drive of Batuka providing liftoff, Santana and his ensemble immediately settled into a high-flying groove that, thanks the seamless flow of one track into the next, endured for the entirety of the 41-minute affair. Whether shifting from the sultry shimmer of Taboo into the riveting tumultuousness of Toussaint L’Overture or from the steamy, jazz-imbued sensuality of Guajira into the ecstatically writhing Jungle Strut, the songs coalesced around their churning cadences to become something greater, and taken in full, the collection invoked a primal, spiritual force that connected Heaven with Earth.
Each of the recently discovered studio jams (Gumbo, Folsom Street — One, and Banbeye) featured on Santana III: Legacy Edition serves as a reminder of the startling shamanic power that lay at Santana’s fingertips as well as the telepathic communication that fueled his band’s epic sojourns. Good as these tracks are, however, the real highlight of the collection is the cohesive concert performance that fills the set’s second disc. Although five of its 11 songs have been available for awhile — Batuka, Jungle Strut, and Gumbo appeared on the 1998 edition of Santana III, while Incident at Neshabur and a cover of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way were featured on the 1972 compilation Fillmore: The Last Days — hearing them in their proper context is an enlightening experience. Employing the framework of his third outing as a template, Santana and his ensemble tore through the material with a vengeance, alternating furiously percolating passages with moments of quiet beauty that frequently foreshadowed the jazz-fusion-oriented path upon which the group would soon tread. In doing so, he magically carried his audience across the cosmos while giving the mighty Fillmore West a fittingly transcendent sendoff.
After the release of his fourth endeavor Caravanserai, which essentially launched a new phase of his career, the quality of Santana’s studio output declined. Always eager to explore new ground, he frequently pushed his material in array of new directions, but too often, his albums were either too spotty and inaccessible or too enamored with whatever the current trends of popular music happened to be. Although he also never failed to kiss the hand of God via his communal concert performances, his recordings almost unarguably never again came close to the capturing the raw emotion and intoxicating brilliance of his initial albums, of which Santana III is a prime example.