Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hymns for Montreux

Hymns for Peace: Live at Montreux 2004
Santana and musical dignitaries
Eagle Eye Media 2 DVD-set

Periodically Carlos Santana has recorded strongly jazz-influenced sessions that bewilder his fans, like the classic Love Surrender Devotion with John McLaughlin covering jazz standards like “A Love Supreme.” Santana has also earned the ire of free Cubans, like Paquito D'Rivera, for his Che fetish, particularly for his wardrobe choice of Che t-shirt and crucifix, which clash worse than stripes and plaids. So when he puts together an all-star group to perform Hymns for Peace at the Montreux Jazz Festival, there is equal opportunity for high and low points.

Fortunately, during the set Santana largely eschews political statements (or they were wisely edited out), aside from an obligatory Pres. Bush snipe preceding “A Love Supreme,” of all possible tunes. Much more interesting is the actual music and Santana’s invited guests, including McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ravi Coltrane, and Chick Corea.

Some of the best solo work actually comes from Coltrane. The fact that he is willing to even stand on stage for “Afro Blue” and “A Love Supreme” is impressive, let alone solo well—which he does. Shorter also adds fire to the Mongo SantamarĂ­a standard, but “Love” is actually marred by an overly vocal arrangement. Coltrane’s best feature though is on “Light At the Edge of the World,” which he carries beautifully.

Some of Santana’s song selections were inspired, as Marley’s “Redemption Song” proved a pitch-perfect match for Angelique Kidjo. While it may not have the strongest thematic relationship to the concert program, Barbara Morrison’s rendition of “Just Like a Woman” is also a real standout. However, some choices just did not work, like “The Banana Boat Song.” Though it sounds a bit corny, closing with the Choeur de Riviera singing “Ode to Joy” actually sort of works for its ambition.

In between, there are some nice solos, particularly from Coltrane and McLaughlin, covering pop standards from Dylan and Marley, and jazz classics, like Joe Zawinul’s “In a Silent Way.” Probably the best balance between soloist and vocalist came on “What’s Going On,” with soulful vocals by Kidjo, Morrison, Patti Austin and Sylver Sharp, and soulful solo statements from Coltrane and Shorter. Probably the least interesting performances from a jazz perspective, including a rap mistake, were relegated to the bonus track area.

Santana and Montreux director Claude Nobs assembled quite line-up for an ambitious concert. Although the results are uneven, that is to be expected from such an All-Star event, and at least for Babalu colleagues, there is no butcher-fetish wardrobe to be seen.