Judge Gordon Sullivan just wrote an autobiographical song: "Bumpy."
I got a black magic woman…
Carlos Santana has had one of the more chameleon-like careers in rock music history. He started out as a Latin rocker (arguably the first such artist to make it to the mainstream), switching gears to a more psychedelic/spiritually aware sound in the Seventies. He spent much of the Eighties and Nineties filling stadiums while his late-Sixties and early-Seventies hits filled the radio airwaves. Usually, by the time an artist is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as Santana was in 1998), their biggest hits are behind them. Santana is an exception; his very next album, Supernatural, took off with a collaboration on the track "Smooth" with Rob Thomas. Since that hit, Santana has found himself balancing his virtuosic classic rock side with his pop-crossover side. That balance is captured perfectly in Santana: Live in Montreux 2011 (Blu-ray).
For Santana: Live at Montreux 2011, Carlos Santana and his band play something like thirty-three songs over the course of three hours at the music festival. All the expected hits ("Oye Como Va," "Black Magic Woman," "Smooth") are present, and a few choice covers enter the mix as well, including "Back in Black," "Sunshine of Your Love," and "A Love Supreme").
Santana's Greatest Hits delivers exactly what it promises; this is a fantastic collection of Santana music performed by a band in top form. Pretty much all the expected songs are here, and Santana and his band give them a robust live treatment that is faithful to the originals without being a slavish recreation. I especially appreciate the way the live versions seem to emphasize the Latin roots of Santana's music, especially in the percussion department.
This Blu-ray is also an excellent release. The 1080i, AVC-encoded transfer is impeccable. Detail is sharp, color rendition is accurate, and black levels are deep and consistent. The only problems that crop up occur when the stage lighting include deep crimson or blue gels that tax the transfer. However, these are minor issues, and the lack of interlacing artefacts makes this a near-perfect transfer for a rock concert documentary. Audio options include a DTS-HD 5.1 track that gives the music a spacious presentation with the multiple instruments getting their own place in the sound field, with an especially impressive low-end thump. The LPCM stereo track is similarly strong, though without as much space in the mix. Finally, a standard-def Dolby Digital 5.1 track is offered, and though it's not as clear and precise as its uncompressed counterparts it still sounds great.
Extras include a pair of interesting interviews—one with Santana, and the other with his wife Cindy—and a behind-the-scenes featurette that looks at the concert's production. There's also a booklet with a short essay on the performance by Hal Miller along with some photos.
Serious fans of Santana will want to pick this disc up just on the basis of the set list, performance, and audiovisual quality. I have no qualms about recommending this disc to longtime fans. However, there are reasons not to pick this disc up for more casual fans.
Many people likely discovered Santana during his recent resurgence in popularity post-"Smooth." Of course there's nothing wrong with that, but for those who haven't gone back to Santana's groundbreaking recordings of the Sixties and Seventies (or who have gone back and not been impressed), the show's set list will be a little too heavy on the old material. Similarly, old school fans who grew up on those albums like Abraxas and can't stand the new stuff with Rob Thomas and his ilk will likely not be impressed by the newer songs included in the set list. Finally, both groups might be baffled by the inclusion of tracks like "Back in Black," which is given a strange rap-rock treatment here.
Speaking of Rob Thomas, Santana share a problem with many other great guitarists (like Frank Zappa): the lack of a consistent front man or woman. Though that can be a strength—allowing him to collaborate with artists like Rob Thomas on occasion—it can be a weakness for fans who fell in love with the original. On this set, Santana uses a variety of vocalists (usually two men and his wife) to sing his songs. Those obsessed with Rob Thomas' vocals on smooth will likely not appreciate their interpretation here, and the same goes for older tracks as well, like "Black Magic Woman." None of the vocal interpretations are bad enough to be dealbreakers, but the absence of the original singers might cause some to be disappointed.
Santana: Live at Montreux 2011 is a solid documentary of a top-flight performance from one of rock's most respected guitarists. The set list makes sense, the performers bring their A-game, and this Blu-ray offers crystal clear sound and video. With only a few quibbles, this set is heartily recommended to those who love Santana.
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