Prior to their national debut in August '69 at the Woodstock festival, Santana were a band of some repute around their hometown of San Francisco (indeed, it was local promoter Bill Graham who got the band on the Woodstock bill). The subsequent success of the group's Columbia debut album and the stardom that came with the Woodstock film prodded an avalanche of unauthorized recordings from the group's early days. San Mateo Sessions brings together a great deal of that material, most of it surprisingly good for what are essentially bootleg and unfinished pre-Columbia studio recordings.
There's a good deal of Santana's trademark fire in these recordings, especially some of the longer, looser performances, and the material cuts a fairly wide swath, including some of the band's signature songs as well as the kind of extended blues soloing that Santana would record during this period as a guest on Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield's Fillmore East recording, The Live Adventures of Bloomfield and Kooper.
Still, as interesting as the recordings are, they're probably only for the die-hards who've already exhausted the group's recently released live Fillmore recordings of the period. Later and more adventurous concert performances can be found in the group's Japanese set, Lotus.
Disc one features alternate and in-development versions of several of the group's best know early pieces including "Jingo," a live "Persuasion" and a "Soul Sacrifice" featuring a saxophonist. Interesting as they are, the real action on this volume comes from the extended live performances, especially on "El Corazon Manda" and "La Puesta Del Sol." "Fried Neckbones and Some Homefries," which shows up on other live recordings, is also included.
Disc two is a bit more hit-and-miss, although the hits are worth a listen, especially "Acapulco" and the rollicking "Hot Tamales." Most interesting to hardcore Santana fans will be "We've Got to Get Ourselves Together," which later appeared in a rewritten form on 1972's Caravansarai as "Just in Time to See the Sun." Less successful is an ill-considered cover of "With A Little Help From My Friends." Hardly a must, but definitely interesting.