When you think of album art, some classic images spring to mind…
– those four blokes on the London zebra crossing,
– that angular tubular bell suspended over sky-sea-shore,
– the underwater baby boy lured by an angler’s dollar bill.
Though it is harder to capture in a few words, the cover of the second Santana album, released in 1970, is another that millions across the world would recognise. Amidst the swirls of psychedelic colour and exotic imagery, our gaze is drawn to the languid nude and her translucent red-pink visitor. Sporting purple and orange plumage and delicate purple body tattoos the angel hovers all curvaceous and ethereal above the sensual, sprawling figure. Mischievously, a white dove is placed so as to preserve some modesty. Why mischief? Because the contrast between pigeon and skin could not be greater; the artist is daring the viewer to embrace the languid sexuality via an image of purity.
The painting is called Annunciation and it was painted in 1961 by Mati Klarwein.
The child of an opera singer and an architect, Mati Klarwein was born in Germany, lived in Israel and studied in Paris. He was a student of Fernand Léger, who introduced Mati to the work of premier surrealist Salvador Dalí. Although there is a strong psychedelic feel to many of his paintings, this has more to do with being an adventurous traveller with a deep interest in non-Western mythologies than any particular connection to hallucinogenic drugs. Indeed, the artist’s friend Timothy Leary once commented that Mati ‘didn’t need psychedelics!’ (Mati Klarwein website).
The story goes that Carlos Santana saw a print of Annunciation in a San Francisco gallery and thought it would make an excellent cover. History has proved him entirely correct as Abraxas has achieved iconic status in the decades since.
In Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell’s 1999 book One Hundred Best Album Covers it is the very first one featured while in The Illustrated History of the Rock Album Cover, Abraxas adorns on the contents page.
Even in the 21st Century, the Mati/Abraxas combo retains a hallowed place. The lavish 2003 coffee table book by (Professor) Nick de Ville, Album, gives it prominence, as does The Ultimate Album Covers Album by artist/designer Roger Dean and David Howells.
All well and good, but Mati Klarwein was a lot more than the artist whose painting was appropriated for Abraxas. He painted portraits, many commissioned. Those whose image Klarwein captured include actors Brigitte Bardot and Richard Gere, poet Robert Graves and composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein.
A somewhat eccentric creative expression was what Mati called “Improved Art”. He would cruise markets and charity shops, acquiring canvases that caught his eye then set about augmenting them, often with humour. Whenever the original was signed, Mati added his own signature, making them truly co-authored works. What a wonderful concept. I wonder if any painter of the base-work ever contacted Klarwein. “Um, excuse me, but you seem to have co-opted my art.”
A couple of years ago, friend of the artist Serge Bramly assembled a beautiful book celebrating the art of Mati Klarwein as it appeared on over fifty album covers. Now when it comes to accumulating records, Vinyl Connection is not known for its good sense and certainly not for restraint. Yet although I would love nothing more than to embark upon an extended worldwide search for every LP with a Mati cover, funds are just not available at present and Ms Connection has refused a second mortgage point-blank. Instead, we will have to make do with an introduction to the art of Mati Klarwein and the music it adorns via those titles already residing in the Vinyl Connection Collection.
Santana – Abraxas [Columbia, 1970]
Career guitarist Carlos Santana formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. Within a year they had lost two words from the band name. Mid-1968 saw their first appearance at the Fillmore (San Francisco). In 1969 they had line-up changes that added (amongst others) Michael Shrieve, recorded their debut album and made an appearance at Woodstock. The rest is history.
The deservedly famous breakthrough.
A sensual Latin and jazz infused masterpiece.
Michael Shrieve – Two Doors [Times Square, 2005]
Drummer par excellence Michael Shrieve was a nineteen year old stripling when he played at Woodstock with Santana. He was a pivotal force on the first nine albums of that band – the music on which their fame is based. A versatile and adventurous musician, Shrieve has played and recorded everywhere on the spectrum from pop to the avant-garde. Here are a few names: Rolling Stones, Steve Winwood, Stomu Yamashta, Andy Summers. This two-part album features Shawn Lane and Jonas Hellborg on part one and Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz on part two.
Two faces, two masks, two stimulating sides.
Intense, engrossing instrumental prog jazz rock.
Greg Allman – Laid Back [Capricorn, 1973]
The Allmusic Guide says this about the Allman Brothers Band: “Blending rock, blues, country, and jazz, the godfathers of Southern rock in all its wild, woolly glory.” Despite grammatical confusion, this is a reasonable soundbite of the band. But although Laid Back was released in the same year as Brothers and Sisters, Greg’s solo effort is a more introspective, soul-driven affair. A great voice, a fine keyboard player.
Wounded keening white blues from a pensive Allman brother.
More Soul food than Southern fried.
De Ville, Nick & Beazley, Mitchell (2003) Album: Style and image in sleeve design. Octopus, London, UK.
Errigo, Angie & Leaning, Steve (1979) The Illustrated History of the Rock Album Cover. Octopus, London, UK.
Dean, Roger & Howells, David (1987) The Ultimate Album Cover Album. Dragon’s World, UK / Prentice Hall Press, NY.
Thorgerson, Storm & Powell, Aubrey (1999) One Hundred Best Album Covers: The stories behind the sleeves. Dorling Kindersley, London, UK.
Bramly, Serge (2012) Mati & the Music: 52 Record Covers 1955 / 2005: A book about Mati Klarwein. RM Editions, Librairie213, Paris.
Mati Klarwein (1932 – 2001)
Featuring Miles Davis, Osibisa, Tempest and others