Lately, it seems that for Carlos Santana, the cell phone has become as important an instrument as the guitar, what with the surfeit of guest stars that’ve peppered his albums since 1999’s multiplatinum “Supernatural.” This Gotham gig, a day-of-release one-off in support of the cameo-laden “All That I Am” (Arista), used such collaborations as an accent, rather than a main course — a choice that made it easier to appreciate Santana for his own unique talent.
That endowment, both as a guitarist and a setter of mood, was set off starkly with an opening one-two punch of “Jingo” and “Hermes,” the latter of which was spiked with spicy brass flourishes from the band’s two-man horn section. Guiding his 10-piece band through variations on the Latin-rock fusion that he pioneered decades back, Santana managed to find some new tributaries, which he explored with genial spaciness on “Foo Foo/Con Santana” and a loping “Corazon Espinado.”
The inevitable duets, clustered toward the middle of the two-hour perf, were a mixed bag. Anthony Hamilton, the only vocalist to reprise his appearance on “All That I Am,” used his pipes to good effect on “Twisted,” but the song itself lacked spark. Walt Laffy, front man for Philly hard rockers Silvertide, did a credible job filling in for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler on “Just Feel Better,” but again, it was difficult to sense any edge in the song’s amorphous fluff.
Robert Randolph remedied that situation during his two-tune turn in the spotlight, particularly when he and Santana bobbed and weaved through the lusty strains of John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Woman.” Randolph’s vigor lingered after his departure, with late-set takes on “Gypsy Queen” and “Oye Como Va” taking on an urgency that snowballed — finally detonating during an encore rendition of “Evil Ways” that incorporated a swatch of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”
The notes of that jazz classic aren’t all that difficult to traverse, but the spiritual angle — which Santana homed in on ecstatically — made this version a true pleasure to witness.