DVD Review: Santana - Greatest Hits: Live at Montreux 2011

DVD Review: Santana - Greatest Hits: Live at Montreux 2011
Eagle Rock
All Access Review: A-

From birth, the worldly Santana has been a band without borders, trying every musical style under the sun at least once in an attempt to concoct exotic genre blends that could appeal to a wide range of tastes. Woodstock organizers undoubtedly found common ground with Santana, both sharing an almost reckless sense of adventure and displaying little fear of the unknown. They must have thought highly of the San Francisco ensemble’s earthy, Latin-flavored fusion of jazz, rap, African music, blues and rock, because they decided to take a flyer on this unproven commodity and invited them to perform at an event they must have known, deep down, would make history.
It was just another in a series of risky steps that somehow worked out in the end for the rag-tag revolutionaries who, despite their “wing and a prayer” planning, managed to pull it off, as Woodstock, a festival that seemed on the verge of a major catastrophe every single day, maintained an admirable certain sense of civility and order. Even many of the initially suspicious townspeople came to respect the marauding invaders that just wanted to peacefully assemble, get high and listen to some of the most exciting music of the day. Certainly, Santana did its part to soothe the savages, this horde of hippies occupying a small town in upstate New York that just wanted to be left alone. It was the coming-out party to end all coming-out parties, as the scintillating Santana mesmerized the masses with a frenzied, euphoric performance that spoke multiple musical languages fluently.
Where Woodstock was a one-off event of extraordinary social significance, the long-running Montreux Jazz Festival has always been just about the music, and Santana has been a fixture at the event for years. It’s been the scene of some of their greatest concert triumphs, one of those being a vibrant, life-affirming 2011 spectacle of dazzling musicianship – not to mention showmanship – that was a colorful feast for the eyes, the ears and the soul. And the new two-disc, 204-minute DVD from Eagle Eye Media that captures the thrilling night on video is an all-you-can-eat buffet of Santana’s greatest hits and a few unexpected surprise
Take the joyous hip-hop version of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” that Santana segues into on Disc One after the melodious improvisation and red-hot firecracker beats of “Spark of the Divine” and the glorious Zappa-esque cacophony of horns, organ and crazed guitar squalls – conducted by a bemused Carlos – in “SOCC” dies down. The manic, incredibly busy instrumentation, always seemingly one step away from going completely off the rails, provides a graffiti-splattered backdrop for Santana’s searing guitar leads and sets the tone for a magical evening, one that sees Santana’s 11-member band cook up a wondrous mix of twilight moods and smoky atmospheres in “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” that drift lazily into a spellbinding version of “Black Magic Woman.” Dancing his way into the summery “Oye Como Va,” Carlos, clearly enjoying himself, rips off one of the many effortless, mind-blowing guitar solos of his that seem to speak directly to God. Watching close-ups of his fluid, expressive playing here is an absolute pleasure. From there, the band’s reworking of Santana’s more recent hit “Maria Maria” – introduced by Carlos’s gorgeous Spanish guitar picking – is both achingly beautiful and an exuberant celebration of Hispanic pride and culture, while “Foo Foo” and “Corazon Espinado/Guajira,” which features wife Cindy Blackman Santana’s powerful, dynamic drumming, are sun-splashed block parties of hip-swaying Latino dance music.
And we’re not even on Disc Two yet, where Santana’s band navigates the tricky instrumental currents of “Evil Ways,” “A Love Supreme” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” in succession with wild abandon and passionate precision. Welcoming Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks to the stage, Santana and company give a tender, heartfelt reading to the bluesy “Make Somebody Happy” before launching into a full-on, righteous jam on “Right On Be Free” that gives all three guitars extensive room to solo brilliantly. Moving on, Santana slides into “Smooth,” and the crowd-pleasing Sangria of flowery pop hooks and sultry melodies leaves you thirsting for more.
The sound is spectacular, and the visuals, while not groundbreaking, are certainly vivid and professionally shot with an interesting variety of camera angles. But, it’s the personality, open-mindedness and skill of Carlos along with the unity and free-flowing instrumental voodoo of his band that wins the day. An inspiring interview with Carlos and a warmly engaging talk with Cindy are paired with enjoyable behind-the-scenes footage to give an intimate glimpse into the jet-setting world of Santana, while extensive liner notes tell of Santana’s historical and present genius fill out a package that is absorbing and intoxicating.

-            Peter Lindblad

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