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Blu-ray Music Review: Carlos Santana Presents: Blues at Montreux 2004

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Carlos Santana never seems to bask in his own talents. Instead, he frequently honors his influences like Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane. In July 2004, at the Montreux Jazz Festival he presented a trio of his favorite bluesman and together they create a fabulous series of concerts.

Backed by a five-piece band, 67-year-old guitarist Bobby Parker is first up with a 70-minute set. In the liner notes, Santana remembers Parker's 1961 hit "Watch Your Step" was a standard around Tijuana. Parker and his band are journeymen, delivering the blues, plain and simple without flash or theatrics. They cover familiar terrain, singing about "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" and being "So Glad I Found You" in a set filled with originals and covers.

During the last three songs, Santana and his keyboards player Chester Thompson join the band. They start with "Chill Out,” which Santana played with John Lee Hooker. Santana creates a warm, golden tone with his playing, and he pushes the rest of the band to greater heights. Even Parker played better.

The performance of 80-year-old Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown is especially poignant because it occurred a couple of months before he was diagnosed with lung cancer and a year before his death. This 71-minute set finds him leading a four-piece group and the talent of all the players is up a notch.

However, don't call Brown a bluesman. He considered "my music American music – Texas style," and his set offers a variety of sounds. After playing the Duke Ellington standard "I'm Beginning To See The Light," Brown switches from guitar to fiddle for “Sunrise Cajun Style.” The band then plays the jazz tune “Honey Boy.” Singer Barbara Morrison takes the stage for “Further On Up The Road” and her vocals blend well in the mix.

Santana and his bassist Myron Dove, who used to play with Brown, come out for "I’ve Got My Mojo Working." As the band members take turns soloing, Dove lays down some heavy bass riffs that will rattle your sound system. Santana calls Buddy Guy out from the wings to take over his guitar for the remainder of the song. Brown closes with “Okie Dokie Stomp,” an instrumental he has been playing for 50 years. Nile Rodgers joins in on guitar and Jeff Cressman’s trombone gives a New Orleans feel to the proceedings.

Sixty-eight-year old Buddy Guy closes out the night with a 97-minute set. He starts alone with just an acoustic guitar, playing "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and two other songs. His five-piece band then joins him so he can get loud, and they start up with “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Guy credits it to performer Muddy Waters, even though Willie Dixon wrote it. He gets into a call and response with saxophonist Jason Moynihan.

In contrast to the other musicians, Guy puts an importance on being a showman, and you can't take your eyes off him. He'll stop and start abruptly, sing with a whisper, a scream, and even a falsetto if it suits him. During "Drowning On Dry Land," he leaves the stage and keeps playing. He turns up in the back of the theatre, playing and singing the whole way back to the stage. Once there, he grabs a drumstick to slide across the strings.

Moynihan lets loose some great riffs throughout an intense version of "Fever." Santana is brought out for "Stormy Monday," and he and Guy are awe-inspiring as they push each other to soar. Morrison comes out and duets with Guy. Parker joins in the fun for "Jam Session 1" and Nile Rodgers does the same for "Jam Session 2."

The video is presented in 1080i/AVC/MPEG-4 transfer with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The images are always sharp and the detail is crystal clear as beads of sweat and strands of hair are evident. Even the birds on the neck of Santana’s guitar are identifiable. In long shots of the stage, the bands remain in focus and there's always depth in the visuals. Colors are well rendered; blacks are solid, though rarely inky due in part to there being constantly bathed in a colored light; and fleshtones are consistent throughout. No major flaws seen through the performances.

As usual with Eagle Vision Blu-rays, there are three audio options: LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS HD Master Audio. The DTS track offers a well-balanced mix where each instrument is discernible, even when Santana plays a cowbell. This also hold true for the vocals. The wide dynamic range does a very good job presenting the highs and lows. The subwoofer is very busy delivering the low end as the rhythm section moves along.

The track also does a great job mimicking a concert setting by positioning the music in the soundfield. For example, the sax player during Bobby Parker’s set is stage left and when he gets to solo on “Straight Up No Chaser,” he comes through the front center and front right. The reverse happens for the keyboard player on stage right.  There's very good ambiance that makes the viewer feel they are at the performance.

Coming in at nearly four hours, fans of the blues and guitar players should do themselves a favor and experience Carlos Santana Presents: Blues at Montreux 2004 to witness masters at their craft and legends in their field.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS