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Santana’s nostalgia ‘Hippie’ script still sizzles

edmontonjournal.com – Concert review:

“Tell me about this Santana,” comanded my cab driver as he transorted me to Rexall Place.

A stoic gentleman with a preference for classical music, he was less interested in which band was playing Rexall as in what time the concert would be letting out and whether he’d be able to pick up a few fares on a dead Tuesday night. Still, he perked up when I mentioned that Carlos Santana was considered a guitar god in many quarters, and that his fusing of Latin rhythms and rock music was deemed revolutionary in its time.

“Black Magic Woman,” he said, nodding his head, and I knew then that we’d made a connection. “Hippies.”

Ah, but those hippies are older now, they have money, and they’re loyal to their heroes; over 6,000 fans made it out to see the guitarist and his extended band work their way through more than four decades of hits. There were a few surprises: who would’ve thought he’d start off by letting his band blare free like an unholy communion of Tito Puente jamming with Sun Ra? Or drop immediately thereafter into a hip-hop version of AC/DC’s Back in Black? It was like he decided to let us know, in two songs, how awesome and then how incredibly awful he could be. Let it be known that Santana can happily dip into vats of cheese when left to his devices.

This is the man who made Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 unavoidable for a solid two years, after all; he’s got some undeniable groaners in the back catalogue. Otherwise he stuck to the nostalgia script, whipping out endless solos that only guitar nerds can probably properly appreciate, leading his 11-piece outfit through hits Oye Como Va, Black Magic Woman, Maria Maria, the audience swaying along in appreciation. And there were congas; congas that made you flash back to drum circles just off Whyte Avenue, or nights spent tormented at North Country Fair.

Practically everyone onstage had a piece of percussion in his hand at one point or another, apropos for a band that’s at least as much salsa as they are rock. Aside from the endless guitar wank, that’s what Santana is – a fine, monstrously grooving dance band that could easily function without the singers and who probably should throw the horns some more work. World-class musicians as well, all given a chance to show off by the boss throughout the evening, working terrain between slapping funk and unexpected ghosts of Weather Report under the guitarist’s instrumental outings. Read more…

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Present Music gathers at the river for powerful ‘Water’ concert

By Jim Higgins Journal Sentinel – In the music performed Saturday evening, Present Music’s “Water” concert reflected both the mutability and the persistence of the title element, constantly changing form but always with us.

That’s beginning to sound like an apt description of Present Music itself. The new-music (i.e., contemporary classical) ensemble celebrated the beginning of its 30th season with a free concert and party at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall and grounds, giving away all of the available tickets.

PM artistic director Kevin Stalheim and company celebrated the life aquatic in multiple forms, including light consciousness-raising about water-quality issues and shout-outs to the Milwaukee Water Council. In an outdoor prelude behind the Marcus Center, Stalheim and the throng of concert-goers welcomed PM musicians, who arrived via the Milwaukee River on boats.

Reflecting the size of the hall, theme and event, Stalheim expanded the core PM ensemble to 19 musicians and made excellent use of several guest choirs and Danceworks Performance Company. Fittingly, the music began with the taped sounds of breaking waves in Ingram Marshall’s “Sea Tropes.”

The women of the Milwaukee Choral Artists sparkled in David Lang’s “Water: My Soul.” At times, in the vast hall, they sounded as though they were singing across a great river, drawing up some of the tones and rhythms of the rushing water.

While the concert emphasized ensemble work rather than solo performances, Adrien Zitoun’s supple cello shone like a beacon in Timothy Andres’ “Fast Flows the River,” nimbly supported by Cory Smythe’s electric organ.

In the world premiere of Kamran Ince’s “Still, Flow, Surge,” commissioned by Jan Serr and John Shannon for this concert, the MCA, Bel Canto Boy Choirs and Vocal Arts Academy of Milwaukee joined PM to pay homage to the life cycle of big bodies of water, including their power to overwhelm us: The work’s most forceful passages suggested the chaotic terror of storms at sea. Read more…