Devadip Carlos Santana and Al Di Meola are two of the best jazz-rock guitarists in the world. Di Meola has mastered the technique of both genres: the hard edge of rock and the clean, subtle phrasing of jazz. Santana has gone much further, though, and has mastered the concept of both genres: the rhythmic momentum and dramatic structure of rock, and the improvisatory variations of jazz. While Di Meola is a better technical player than Santana, Santana's closing set at the Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday night was far more exciting than Di Meola's opening set.
Di Meola played "Beyond The Seventh Galaxy" from his "Return Forever" days, plus several fast and flashy instrumentals from his solo albums. No matter how fast he played, Di Meola picked each note with a strong, sure touch. Di Meola's guitar engaged Philippe Saisee's synthesizer and vibes in dazzling, dueling dialogues. As impressive as Di Meola's playing was, there were few melodies or moods for the audience to grab onto.
Santanta -- both the guitarists and the band -- gave the audience enough meloday and blues to get lost in. Five of the band's eight members played percussion. The throbbing, jangling Latin rhythms allowed Santana to stretch out on guitar without the audience ever losing the basic groove. The band relied heavily on its earlier hits like "Black Magic Woman" and "evil Ways," but its-leader transformed the songs with guitar lines that combined the dramatic flair of Eric Clapton, the jazz technique of his friend, John McLaughlin, and the sensual rhythms of his native Mexico.