With a mere 18 songs, Ultimate Santana is by no means truly definitive of his four decades worth of recording and performing. However, this is a highly enjoyable collection that, if anything, shows how Carlos Santana continues to be one most relevant and enduring artists from the original Woodstock era.
Now, before you realize what's wrong or missing from this compilation, let's admit something out in the open: it is hard to summarize any great musician or band's career at an affordable price. And in the age of iTunes, a compilation that doesn't have any digital features or bonus material will be a hard sell, especially on the old compact disc.
Having said all that, this disc has an excellent balance of the old and the recent hits. There are seven classics from his first three band-based albums (1969's Santana, 1970's Abraxas, 1971's Santana III) and seven collaborative tracks from his most three most recent albums (1999's Supernatural, 2002's Shaman, 2005's All That I Am). Instrumental classic "Europa" (from his seventh album, 1976's Amigos) is on here as well.
In addition, there are four new, mostly good but not awe-inspiring collaborations with the likes of Chad Kroeger of Nickelback ("Into The Night") and Alex Band of The Calling ("Why Don't You & I"). "Interplanetary Party" is also new, but it's a dance beat-fueled party starter that hardly sounds like Santana. There are very few questionable inclusions on this record, and that's one of them.
But essentials like the rip-roaring guitar work of "No One To Depend On," "Evil Ways," the Latin-rock flavored "Oye Como Va," and the body-moving number one hits "Smooth" and "Maria, Maria" are all here.
Yes, it is missing "Soul Sacrifice" "Se Acabo" and "Jingo," to name a few, but other compilations have those. You'd need an ultimate box set to make everybody happy. The idea here is to put enough essentials from his early and recent days to one disc that can be purchased for the same price as a regular studio album. Perhaps the album should have been called something other than Ultimate Santana.
For those worried about too much recent material on here, thankfully this disc has only one song from the least impressive of his last three guest-infested releases, "Just Feel Better" (featuring Steven Tyler) from 2005's All That I Am. Unlike some other star-studded collaborations where Carlos sounds more like a background guitar player, he noodles around throughout the track and lets Tyler do his thing. It's a very good pop rocker, but you would expect such a pairing to rock a little harder than this, as it sounds more of the Michelle Branch school of rock than classic Aerosmith or Santana.
Overall, I would recommend this CD to contemporary fans of Santana, as his older fans may not be interested in all the modern collaborations and probably have all the essential albums anyway. It is definitely geared to a younger generation that wasn't born when Carlos first made a name for himself. In that sense, it works and works very well.