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Blu-ray Music Review: Carlos Santana – Santana: Greatest Hits – Live At Montreux 2011

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Few veterans of the West Coast rock scene of the late 1960s can claim as much post-Woodstock success as Carlos Santana. Few musicians from that era can point to as much obvious creative evolution over the years, as much ongoing public popularity, or as much critical regard both for their music as well as, in Santana’s case, his affirmative spirituality. Only the Rolling Stones match him for charting at least one Top Ten album in every decade after their first commercial breakthrough.

Filmed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in high-definition and recorded in DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1 and LPCM Stereo, Live In Montreux is as fulfilling as any Santana concert can be, short of being there in person. From 1969’s “Evil Ways” (here blended with John Coltrane’s “The Love Supreme”) to 1999’s “Smooth” to “Sunshine of your Love” from 2010’s Guitar Heaven , Santana offers a wide palate of 23 numbers from his career. However, while some publicity calls the disc a “Greatest Hits” project, that’s hyperbole. Most fans can point to favorites not included such as “Game of Love” or “She’s Not There.” Many selections were album highlights, true enough, so saying “Very Best of…” might be more on target.

Here’s one warning regarding the generosity of the recording. Clocking in at 240 minutes, a viewer would need to stake out three hours to watch the concert in its entirety. The Blu-ray version is all on one disc; the DVD is divided into two. For all but the most devoted of fans, the DVD may be a kinder choice, so listeners can enjoy the program in two sittings.

Either way you go, Live at Montreaux is exciting, energetic entertainment that pulls together virtually every aspect of modern music—rock, jazz, touches of rap, and considerable samples of world music, if that’s still the appropriate term for international meldings of styles, rhythms, and multilingual vocals.

Right off the bat, the polyphonic textures of “Spark Of The Divine” introduces the usual percussion line, Santana’s astonishing guitar work, and a horn section punctuating a song demonstrating this is a band that can play anything—and will. The vocals in “Back In Black” also announces that this is a band about to “tear the roof down tonight,” and few will be able to argue with that boast.

Among the highlights is a punching medley drawing from 1970’s Abraxus , including “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts,” “Black Magic Woman”/”Gypsy Queen,” and “Oye Como Va.” Santana dedicates 2000’s “Maria Maria” to the women of the world and shows off his acoustic guitar chops to support some choice ensemble singing. Then we’re off to the Caribbean for a brassy, lively “Foo Foo” before Carlos dedicates a sizzling “Corazon Espinado”/”Guajira” to his wife, Cindy Blackman Santana. Speaking of Cindy, she joins the band for a drum solo that might make you forget Mike Shrieve’s performance at Woodstock all those years ago.

Later, Carlos takes time to describe his very optimistic view of humanity in transition, saying mankind demonstrates compassion when things are at their worst. Appropriately, this monologue segues into a beautiful rendition of the guitar prayer, “Novus,” which is followed by a series of fluid instrumentals, “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile)”/”I Want You.” From 1972, we get the hit “No One To Depend On” before Santana goes all the way back to the 1960s psychedelic styled “Duende”/”Open Invitation.”

Along with the soloists drawn from his group, Santana brings on guest performers such as the husband/wife vocal team of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks for the slow, soulful blues of “Make Somebody Happy”/”Right On Be Free.” Finally, we think the show is over but, for the encore, we get “Soul Sacrifice” with some unusual guitar leads, including the “007 Theme.” But wait, there’s more! That means the gentle “Samba Pa Ti,” “Into The Night”, and the extended “Love, Peace And Happiness”/”Freedom,” in which all the band introductions are made.

It’s hard to imagine what more any concert goer could ask for from a performance. There’s an extremely tight band onstage capable of keeping the pace going and going with shifting time signatures, interweaving textures, varying vocal styles, and relentless energy. There’s one virtuoso guitarist surrounded by a fleet of outstanding players and singers, and the main man doesn’t hog the spotlight.

There’s outstanding material from start to finish, and whether or not all the selections were “hits” or not isn’t the point. This concert is an event that will fill your living room in all its corners and is one you’ll want to revisit from time to time. The bonuses, interviews with both Carlos and Cindy Santana, are insightful and revealing. I join the chorus of those who suggest listening to the interviews first to better appreciate the experience.

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