Chango - s/t. 1975 USA

Originally published in Gnosis on August 15, 2002. I did a bit of upgrading to the review, but the foundation is still intact as it were.

Imagine yourself walking the barrios in Queens, New York circa 1975. Bums, pushers, hookers, street musicians, and the smell of tortas vendors. You see a small club, it has a name like Enrique's Hell Hole. You venture in cautiously. Torches are lit high, as you tiptoe over the junkies, and tactfully avoid the needles scattered about the floor. You watch as on stage there are six seriously fried dudes. Each cranking out some of the most intense music to have ever been performed on these Atlantic Yankee shores. Two percussionists and a drummer drive the speedy pulse, whilst organ, bass, and guitar all roar, slash, and sing. This is all Chango's first album and for anyone who likes the early Santana vibe, then you are in for a treat, because Chango tread a new path right at the point where Santana went fusion. This is the ultimate culmination of all the best Carlos could muster. A high water mark for heavy Latin groove rock. The album has it all: The screaming Santana guitar sustain fuzz chops; The swirling Hammond organ; The speed-freak-machismo lead singer that all the messed up chicks were somehow swooning for. And, of course, those dance-able rhythms that even this uptight white guy might make note of. The lyrics are exactly what you want from this kind of album: Sex, life-in-the-ghetto, grade-school mysticism - and well....... sex.

Right off the bat, you are pulverized with 'Fire Over Water' followed by the eight minute 'Walk on Hell'. Really, do I need to describe these tracks? Put the environment, instrumentation, song titles, and influences together and you've got an aural vision. Many of the songs are catchy too - you'll be humming them for days. 'Caminando', 'Solid Karma', and especially 'Mira Pa Ca' just have killer melodies. But where Chango excels most is with the instrumentals like the pounding 'Bollo' and 'Bembe', plus the beautiful 'Sacapa'. But the best is possibly saved for last. The nine minute title track combines relentless energy, tuneful melodies, and fiery instrumental playing. It's all very awe-inspiring. Careful though, as you may find yourself in a big heap afterward.

How this album missed the big time is somewhat of a mystery to me. Being that it was released in 1975, perhaps it was too late for the early Santana sound. I'm also guessing that ABC records, not known for their music marketing muscle, had no idea how to promote it. There are very few albums that contain this kind of energy and instrumental virtuosity. And then combines that with a strong melodic sense. A true masterpiece and one of underground America's most proud moments.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 ABC
LP: 2000 Akarma (Italy)
CD: 2000 Akarma (Italy)

The original comes in a fine gatefold, that unfortunately lends itself easily to ringwear (typical of US presses). The only reissues are the dubious Akarma's CD and LP,  that have been declared as unofficial by band leader Pepe Gomez. All the same, I do own these reissues (both formats), and the packaging is well done, as is typical of the label. But it would be nice for a specialist label to do it right, from the master tapes, with liner notes and participation of the band. I do hope that happens at some point!

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