In late 2003, Montreux Jazz Festival director Claude Nobs approached Carlos Santana about doing something special to honor the annual event's 37th year. Over the next six months, the pair would conceive a one-of-a-kind performance that would bring together a few dozen of Santana's "closest friends' for a three-hour jam session honoring the best protest songs of the last fifty years.
The result was 'Hymns for Peace.' Staged in front of a sold-out crowd for one night only on July 15, 2004, the guest list featured a virtual who's who of rock legends. Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Patti Austen, Steve Winwood, Nile Rodgers and a host of other master musicians all joined Santana for a three-hour performance that was the equivalent of the biggest musical block party ever thrown -- well, if your block happens to be Montreux...
At first glance, some may disappointed by the setlist. This is no Santana solo show, and you won't find any recent hits such as "Smooth" anywhere among the 18 peace-lovin' tunes here. But where 'Hymns for Peace' excels is in the looseness of its performances. Simply put, this group cranks. Sure, there are plenty of incredibly talented guitarists fronting popular bands today, but Santana is -- without argument -- a true guitar god. I don't think I recognized more than a couple of the songs on 'Hymns for Peace,' but I was never less than mesmerized by his playing. The man truly can captivate with a flick of the finger.
This is also a long show. Spanning 181 minutes, the average song runs a good 8 minutes. Improvs and extended jams are frequent, with the band simply awe-inspiring in what they seem to be dreaming up out of thin air, as if guided by some higher force. And what fun they seem to be having -- the sheer joy displayed on stage was clearly contagious, and by mid-set the band and audience seem to become one, everyone swaying to the same universal groove.
Visually, 'Hymns for Peace' is a straightforward show. There are no pyrotechnics, no cavalcade of dancers -- just a bunch of musicians up on stage, jamming for three hours in support of a cause they believe in passionately. And perhaps it is, at times, a tad self-indulgent. But when you have artists as mesmerizing and talented as this, who cares?
The 18-song setlist features the following songs: 01. Intro / 02. Afro Blue / 03. Adouma / 04. Redemption Song / 05. Exodus / Get Up Stand Up / 06. Blowin’ In The Wind / A Place In The Sun / 07. Just Like A Woman / 08. What’s Going On / 09. Peace On Earth / Boogie Woman / 10. Why Can’t We Live Together / 11. Light At The Edge Of The World / 12. Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord / 13.Banana Boat Song / 14. Day Of Celebration / 15. Ah Sweet Dancer / In A Silent Way / 16. Jingo / 17. A Love Supreme / 18. Ode To Joy
'Santana: Hymns for Peace' was recorded entirely with HD cameras, and is presented here in its native 1080i (1.78:1 widescreen) as a VC-1 encode. As with most shot-on-high-def live presentations, it generally looks excellent, with a three-dimensional level of clarity that doesn't disappoint.
Though the photography and stageset are no-frills (don't expect any jumbo-sized video screens or bombastic lighting), it's definitely colorful. The band and special guests wear some, um, rather cheesy, '60s-meets-'80s hippie-esque clothing, resulting in some very vivid hues that always remain nice, clean and stable. Typical of shot-on-HD material, detail is excellent, with only some fuzziness in the darkest areas of the picture. The picture is generally sharp, although a fair amount of fog is used during the performance which sometimes gives a soft and flat look. The picture is generally sharp, although a fair amount of fog is used during the performance which can flatten out apparent depth in the transfer. It is the only real problem area of the presentation -- fine details in the shadows can be lost in a soft haze, making the darkest areas of the picture appear impenetrable. However, such small nitpicks aside, 'Hymns for Peace' looks quite nice.
Eagle Vision provides three flavors of audio for 'Hymns for Peace' -- two DTS-HD High-Resolution and Dolby Digital-Plus mixes (both 5.1 surround and 1.5mbps), plus a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo option (at 448kbps). While the quality of the recording is clearly high, the lack of a true high-resolution track (such as PCM or Dolby TrueHD) ultimately results in a sound presentation that never truly soars.
Bass has some strength, but it never really delivers those deep, power low tones that can challenge the subwoofer. Similarly, highs don't have that truly bright, realistic quality of the best live recordings I've heard on high-def. Surrounds are also not fully employed, with only very slight crowd noise and little in the way of exciting, creative placement of instrumentation.
To be sure, purely in terms of clarity and sheer listen-ability, 'Hymns for Peace' sounds just fine. But compared to some of the truly exceptional high-resolution mixes available on HD DVD and Blu-ray, this one is decidedly average.
Typical of the slim supplemental packages found on most music releases, Eagle Vision has included only a couple of extras on 'Santana: Hymns for Peace,' each of which originally appeared on the standard DVD edition of this title, which was first released as a two-disc set in May 2007.
First up are three bonus songs: "One Love," "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance." Given that the main program already runs a lengthy 181 minutes, I can't help but wonder why they just didn't add these three tracks in, but regardless these three songs look great in 1080i, and the audio options are identical to the feature.
Also included is a 8-minute featurette, "An Interview with Carlos Santana," which incorporates a good amount of behind-the-scenes footage and rehearsal clips with Santana talking about what drew him to stage the concert and choosing his collaborators.
(Note that like the main feature, all supplements are presented in 1080i/MPEG-2 video and of very high quality.)
'Santana: Hymns for Peace' is a lively one-off concert celebrating some of the best political power anthems of all time. Though fans won't find any of Santana's biggest hits in the setlist, a strong group of collaborators and some intense, extended jams still make 'Hymns for Peace' a must-see for the faithful.
This HD DVD release from Eagle Vision is a solid high-def music release. The video transfer is typical of live concert recordings with a very vivid presentation, plus there are a good couple of supplements. However, while the included Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are perfectly fine in their own right, they just can't compare to the true high-resolution audio on similar releases. Worth a look for even the most casual Santana fans.