Carlos Santana once likened his penchant for exploring different musical genres to a mountain climber’s obsession with mountains. So long as part of a mountain range — or the musical equivalent — lies uncharted, there remains a challenge to be met. Over the course of fourteen albums, Santana and the various versions of his band have indeed explored many areas of contemporary music. The music on Shangó, much like the group’s 1981 smash, Zebop!, ranges from Latino chants and instrumentals to near-jazz — here, with a bit more synthesized polish to it — to rock, including an upbeat cover of Junior Walker’s “What Does It Take (to Win Your Love).” As usual, the percussion section churns impeccably and Santana’s guitar-playing shines.
There is a cost to Carlos Santana’s eclecticism, however, and it is evident on Shangó. Precisely because he has chosen no distinct stylistic route for his band, the music often lacks distinction altogether. At times, in fact, the playing seems so formulaic Santana could easily be mistaken for one of the faceless bands that now dominate the airwaves. Santana may be winning new fans and airplay with this sort of musical potpourri, but he’s not reaching any new musical peaks.