Santana Ultimate Collection is exactly what it sets out to be - an ultimate experience of Santana.
Not being a massive fan of Santana I knew eventually I would at least get hold of a greatest hits compilation as there are so many available and at the minimum the band are important in the prog subgenre as jazz fusion progenitors. I have the recent album with Carlos playing with a variety of singers but it is not a good example of the diversity of this band and is so up to date and not really progressive. The 3 CD set I am viewing is known as Santana Gold Greatest and is identical in track order as the Ultimate Collection 2 CD set. The packaging is different but every track is featured. It is a delight to listen to these tracks in the chronological order that they are presented as it takes the listener on a journey showing how Santana have progressed from album to album.
The first few tracks are taken from the debut Santana and the legendary classic Abraxas. Tracks 1-3 are from the debut and tracks 4-7 are from Abraxas. They are all great tracks and really feature heavily the stabbing overpowering Hammond. This is Santana at their proggiest best. The first Santana experience for me was the Woodstock 'Soul Sacrifice' performance with that wonderful guitar lick and the amazing drum solo. Nothing could compare to that but the studio version is still not too bad. 'Black Magic Woman' is a classic with vocals but many of these earlier tracks are instrumentals and played with virtuoso musicianship. Tracks 8-11 are from Santana 3 and they are all wonderful. The 2 tracks follow from Caravanserai and are good but it is much better to listen to that album in its entirety (another album I have in my collection).
Track 14 is from Welcome, track 15 is from Borboletta, tracks 16-17 from Amigos and tracks 18-19 from Festival. CD 1 showcases Santana from 1969-1976 and is definitely the best part of this collection - everything they did in the 70s is spine tingling and unforgettable music.
CD2 features the group from 1976-1990 and is full of edited tracks which is a shame because it ruins the experience. It begins with an edit of Revelations from Festival and some singles follow. Tracks 5-6 are edited from Inner Secrets. Tracks 7-9 are all edits from Marathon. Tracks 10-12 are full versions from Zebop. Track 13-14 are from Shango, tracks 15-16 from Beyond Appearances, and there's an edited version of Veracruz from Freedom from 1987. The only track from 1990's Spirits Dancing in the Flesh is Gypsy Woman.
When the album tracks are chosen for a compilation it is debatable whether the right choice is taken. I would disagree with the 2 tracks from Caravanserai though I can understand given the space on a disk that the lengthier tracks were unsuitable. I cannot speak for the others as I do not have the albums. There are a lot of edited tracks on this compilation and some of the riffs and jams are removed as a result spoiling the experience. There is a notable change in direction for Santana during the 80s, as most bands were subject to, but it is still very well executed music. Carlos' interplanetary guitar sings, soars and swoops majestically on every track, the drums pound and you have to love those bongo and tom tom metrical patterns, very Latin at times, and every time signature mesmirising.
In summary, there is a lot to offer here as a starting point for Santana, but those with every album need not venture into this unless they want to complete their collection and get everything the band slapped their name on. However, it is worth reminding you that this collection of songs comes in a variety of forms, the one I have is the 3 CD Gold series, a much cheaper purchase than the original packaging. I have seen this on the shelves in market stores recently in another packaging would you believe as a new release and as a budget purchase!
Furthermore, a lot of these tracks appear on smaller compilations but I believe it is better to get this collection as it showcases the best of the band and leaves out very little if you can stand all the edited tracks (9 edited tracks total!). The compilation is excellent despite the flaws and is well worth getting hold of for the budget price. What you have here is a collection of what made this band one of the most popular and most innovative groups of rock history.