There is Santana, the man, and then there is Santana, the band. Devadop Carlos Santana is a brilliant guitarist who combines percussive rock strokes with improvised jazz ticking. Santana is the seven-person Latin-rock band that backs him with mixed results. Last night at the Meriweather Post Pavilion, Santana the guitarist shone brightly while Santana the band flickered.
Satana the band was highlighted by four excellent percussionists: Graham Lear on trap drums, Orestes Vilato on timbales, and Armando Peraza and Raul Rekow on congas. Though they all could play quite hard and fast, they also played more subtly at times, and the rhythms constantly washed through the songs like over-lapping waves on a Mexican beach. Unfortunately, lead singer Alex Ligertwood and keyboardist Richard Baker were competent but lacked the same flair and personality. Ligertwood's vocal turned the band's new single, "Winning," into a hard-rock cliche.
Thus the show fared best when the band departed from vocals and arrangements for open-ended jamming. The percussionists got lots of room to show their stuff on "Jingo." But it was Devadip Carlos Santana's guitar solos that stole the show with their gruff rhythms and lyrical flights. In one memorable long solo, he began with furious psychedelia that still had an undeniable swing, then shifted into Latin phrases where he held single notes till they seemed to shiver, and finally drifted into a jazz excursion with knowing nods toward John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix.