Despite the way this DVD is billed, Carlos Santana is not the real star here.
Part of Eagle Vision's awesome series of concerts recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival through the years (featuring everyone from Eric Clapton to Alice Cooper), it is rather something of a showcase for the blues. Over the course of three flat-out amazing DVDs, you get complete sets by three great bluesmen: Bobby Parker, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and the legendary Buddy Guy.
Santana, besides being the guy whose name is featured most prominently on the DVD, serves as the common link between all three performances. Each of them climax with a jam between the principals and Santana himself.
I'm just going to cut to the chase here. What you've got is three DVDs, each featuring a great blues performance. I have to be honest and say I jumped on board here because Santana is one of my all-time favorite guitarists. And the chance to see him step away from the poppier stuff he's been doing lately to get down and dirty with some blues cats was just too much to resist.
And down and dirty he gets. What's most surprising is the way these blues cats hold their own with a master guitarist like Santana. I'd never heard Bobby Parker prior to this, for example. But after the way he tore through a free-form jam with Santana on cuts like "Chill Out," "Mellow Down Easy," and "Watch Your Step," I can guarantee you I'll be picking up some of his albums. Parker matches Santana pretty much note for note in what amounts to a guitar duel between two first class gunslingers to close the first DVD.
The Gatemouth Brown set is a little more subdued — at least at first. But about midway through, it gets so funky you can almost smell the chitlins on the grill. When Santana and Buddy Guy step into the spotlight with Brown for a workout on the standard "Got My Mojo Workin," you can start to feel the electricity rise. But the rock solid band backing them never loses track of the decidedly New Orleans groove they've locked into. If you appreciate great musicians showing off their chops — without getting too showy — as much as I do, it just doesn't get much better than this.
The most surprising aspect of all this is the way Santana so effortlessly locks into the blues groove here. Santana's guitar chops have never been in doubt. But I always thought of him as more of a jazz player. If you listen to early live Santana albums, like the great Lotus, for example, this is a guy who seems to be looking for John Coltrane by way of a Jimi Hendrix much more than through a B.B. King.
Anyway, they save the best stuff for last on this DVD. Buddy Guy, who has over the years developed a well-deserved reputation as something of a wild man of the blues, goes the acoustic route here for much of his set. Kicking off with "Good Morning Little School Girl," Buddy Guy cries and howls his way through one of the sweetest sounding versions of that blues classic I have ever heard. By the time he gets to "Fever," the audience is in the palm of his hand. Was it Peggy Lee who made that song so famous? Well if so, then move over Peggy because this is the best damned version of that song I've ever heard. Guy's vocals build slowly from a whisper to some borderline erotic moaning.
And when he finally straps on the electric guitar, forget about it. If you don't buy this DVD for any other reason, buy it for "Stormy Monday." In the opening guitar exchange between Buddy Guy and Carlos Santana, I can honestly say I've never heard Santana play quite like this. Showing rare restraint at first, Carlos actually plays in the sort of blues style I never knew he had in him. But before all is said and done, he is screaming up and down that fret board like a man possessed. The interplay between Santana and Buddy Guy here just flat out kicks ass.
At three DVDs, with a total running time of something like 240 minutes, there's a whole lot of music to take in here. I'd suggest bringing a nice bottle of wine along for the ride, not to mention a significant someone to curl up with.
Because trust me, if Buddy Guy's set doesn't warm her up, nothing will.
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