July 12th was the final night of the Santana Montreux trilogy and it was planned as a showcase for Santana and special guests Draco, Sean Paul, Eagle Eye Cherry, Herbie Hancock, Beverly Knight, and longtime Bay Area musical juggernaut Tower of Power. Like its predecessors, The Beat of My Drum and My Blues Is Deep, Montreux Santana Night was another resounding success and, as Claude Nobs, himself, stated afterwards, another page added to what is fast becoming a Santana Montreux legend.
Seeing evening opener Tower of Power in top form is always an exciting experience in every regard, but seeing and hearing Tower of Power with organist Chester Thompson back in the band for this one night and Carlos Santana added to the lineup was absolutely sensational, a set of power, precision, and controlled mayhem. Cheered on by offstage onlookers Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones- as well as by the rest of the Santana band, most of whom had never seen Chester when he played with this band some twenty-three years ago- this augmented edition of T.O.P. roared through a collection of numbers that included classics “Squib Cakes”, “Sparkling In The Sand”, “Knock Yourself Out”, and “What Is Hip”. They rocked the house, perhaps like it had never been rocked before.
The set change intermission that followed gave everyone a chance to take a breath and prepare themselves for what was to be a veritable Santana extravaganza.
The various guest acts were sandwiched between Santana performances of “Jingo”, “I Am Somebody”, “Hermes”, “El Fuego”, “Soul Sacrifice” and the night’s culmination “Angel Chant/Into The Night/& Novus”. Santana’s performance seemed even more impassioned than usual, possibly the result of finally getting to show what they could do as a unit in contrast to the previous two nights when they were cast in a supporting role for musicians who were for the most part new to them. In any event sparked by the brilliant vocals of Andy Vargas, the propulsive drumming of Dr. Dennis Chambers, the dynamic percussive duo of Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow, the tandem rhythm and harmony of Benny Rietveld and Chester Thompson, the energetic and always just right interjections of trumpeter Bill Ortiz and trombonist Jeff Cressman and the fiery guitar of Carlos Santana, they caught fire early and refused to cool off for the rest of the night.
Draco entranced the audience with “ Dancing In The Rain”,”Crash Push” and “Luchar Por Ella” and he and Carlos, in particular, showed an amazing musical symbiosis. Eagle Eye Cherry not only reprised “Wishing It Was”, his contribution to All That I Am, but also debuted two new songs on which he played piano and sang,”Desireless” and “Together”. Describing his performance as riveting and/or mesmerizing would be an understatement, so magically engrossing was he.
Piano virtuoso, jazz legend, composer supreme Herbie Hancock can always be counted on for a surprise or two and for Montreux Santana Night he brought along African vocalist-guitarist Sissiko who performed solo as well as with Herbie and Santana on “Sofiatu”. To the surprise of no one, the Hancock segment brought the house down, once more.
Perhaps, however, the highlight of the night was provided by vocalist Beverly Knight who duetted with Sean Paul on “Cry Baby Cry” and “Keep This Fire Burning” before taking her own solo turn on “Piece of My Heart”. Although Beverly Knight is well known in her native England, she is little known throughout the rest of Europe and a virtual non entity in the U.S. Don’t expect this relative anonymity to last long: Beverly Knight is sheer musical dynamite- think Aretha, Patti LaBelle, &Whitney Houston- with an ability to almost stun an audience with her brilliance. Recommended to Carlos by Montreux Festival promoter Claude Nobs, she simply amazed the entire Santana band at the previous day’s soundcheck and her performance on Night #3 was even better.
Carlos had wondered beforehand whether the band would have a letdown on this final night given all the energy, effort, and emotion expended on the first two nights, The Beat of My Drum, and My Blues Is Deep. His concern was understandable but as the opening performance of “Jingo” almost instantly demonstrated, there was no need to worry. Santana was ready and eager to show Montreux what Santana was all about and they did so in their usual irrepressible, undeniable, take-no-prisoners-fashion.
It was a night for the ages, a celebration of spirit, artistry, and a fitting culmination to a truly majestic Montreux experience for Santana.