- Santana - Hymns For Peace: Live At Montreux 2004
Somewhere in this double DVD set of a guest-filled show is an absolutely cracking single disc. There are moments of sublime musical joy here, where such legends as John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, and Chick Corea meld effortlessly with Santana’s regular band and ably demonstrate why they are held in such high esteem. Sadly, there’s at least a full disc’s worth of some of the absolutely worst drivel it’s been my dubious pleasure to sit through, and you have to wade through this muck to get to the good parts.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Lurking mostly on Disc One are absolutely appalling versions of several beloved songs. “Redemption Song” is massacred by Angelique Kidjo (who also manages to take a swift and painful dropkick to the solar plexus of “Imagine”), “Blowing in the Wind” is slaughtered disco-style by regular Santana vocalist Andy Vargas, and the introduction of rap to “Give Peace a Chance” results in possibly the worst cover version of any song that these ears have ever heard, which is really saying something. I’ve heard better versions of all of these songs on the early rounds of American Idol, and considering the pedigree of the musicians involved in this concert, they should quite frankly be ashamed of themselves. Pretty much all of the songs here that involve vocalists are appalling, with Kidjo and Vargas turning in especially awful cuts. On paper, the idea of performing “What’s Going On” with Kidjo, Patti Austin, and Senegalese superstar Idrissa Diop on vocals backed by Shorter, McLaughlin, and Corea should make a music fan salivate. In practice, it’s an awful mess that is barely salvaged by some wondrous soloing by Shorter and is a perfect example of why
“let’s get 20 legends on stage and see what happens” jam sessions rarely work. Nobody has room to shine, and everyone is too busy deferring to everyone else to try and take the space they need. Disc One has the sad sight of Herbie Hancock playing single note accompaniment to a jumped-in-a-dark-alley-and-beaten-senseless version of “Exodus,” and that just about sums up the level of futility involved on the first disc.
Disc Two, on the other hand, is where the great stuff hides. The number of people on stage decreases and the quality of music played increases exponentially. Steve Winwood and the Santana Band rip through a version of Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together” like they’ve been performing it together for 20 years. The vocals are impassioned and spot on (it’s the only vocal triumph in the entire show), and both Winwood and Santana play some spine-chilling solos. Winwood leaves and Ravi Coltrane comes up for a sweet take on “Light at the End of The World” before Santana and McLaughlin revisit 1973 with a simply gorgeous version of “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord.” McLaughlin’s quicksilver guitar runs are simply sublime, and the man isn’t even concentrating, as he spends most of the time looking at Carlos’ fingers. Quickly bypassing the horrendous “Banana Boat Song,” from there it’s nothing but brilliance: Shorter and Hancock ripping “In A Silent Way,” a brain-frying “Jingo” with Chic’s Nile Rogers delivering perhaps the only rhythm guitar solo I’ve ever seen, and a closing run-through of “A Love Supreme” that finally gives all of the players a chance to shine. Disc Two is almost a complete triumph.
The sound and the camera work are top-notch throughout, as you’d expect from a Montreux Jazz Festival production, and even the appalling songs have the “can’t take your eyes away” appeal of a car crash. Thankfully, this double disc set retails for the same price as single disc set. As a result, it remains highly recommended simply because the amazing music on display during most of Disc Two manages to outweigh the sheer embarrassment of the vocal tracks that ruin Disc One.