The album gets off on a hip foot with a pair of Latin flavored originals, "Hermes" and "El Fuego." "Hermes" begins with a swell from Chester Thompson's organ that let you know you are listening to Santana, followed by a confirming blast from Carlos and the rest of the band with its percussion and horn sections. This is the kind of song that would fit in on any of Santana's dozens of albums, including their very first. I think that's important, because it establishes the integrity of the date from the very start. Santana may be making a crossover record, but you can be sure they are still making a Santana record. There are two more tracks that are essentially in this vein, "Con Santana," coming on the heels of the first group of pop-oriented numbers (at what would probably constitute the first track of a second LP side) and "Da Tu Amor" at the set's close.
The guest tracks are interesting because some combinations sound more natural than you would expect and vice versa. Mary J. Blige seems an odd partner for Santana on paper, but the funky "My Man" really works. On the other hand, Steven Tyler of Aersomith sounds curiously flaccid on "Just Feel Better." The instrumental "Trinity," with Kirk Hammett of Metallica on guitar and Robert Randolph on pedal steel is a pretty jam reminiscent of the Allman Brothers and one of the album's best cuts.
It's hard to think of any other artists from Carlos's generation that could make a convincing record with such a diverse group of young artists, but somehow from Santana it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch. Of course, the Santana band has always assimilated different sounds around it into what they do. They've managed to survive for almost forty years now because they have maintained this currency, the key being that they have done so mainly by fitting the latest sounds and technology into their mold rather than the other way around. Sure, there may be some programmed beats and some dance hall style vocals from will.i.am thrown in "I Am Somebody," for example, but you still have Chester Thompson on organ, live drums from Dennis Chambers, Latin percussion from Karl Perazzo, a killer horn section and--of course--Carlos's ripping lead guitar. They aren't trying to remake themselves as a 21st century pop group, just continuing to adapt.
All I Am is a solid effort from Santana. Though it doesn't rise to the level of 1999s multi-platinum smash Supernatural (not to mention classics like Caravansari), it's still pretty darn good. Longtime fans will find more than enough of what they like, and it should encourage new listeners to dig deeper into Carlos's large catalog.