Classic Rock Review

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Santana Caravanserai (1972)

886978775023From The Guardian

Released in October 1972, `Caravanserai’ marks one of Santana’s highest and most sublime creative moments and has often been described as “music for musicians”. It’s the last of Santana’s studio recordings to feature founder-member Gregg Rolie on keyboards and second-guitarist (the very young but virtuoso) Neal Schon, both of whom were shortly to depart to form `Journey.’ Rolie features on some tracks and new keyboard player Tom Coster appears on others, the start of a decades-long and highly productive association between Coster and Santana.

Founder-member David Brown is replaced on bass by Doug Rauch (on some of the numbers) and Tom Rutley (on others) and the departure of Mike Carabello as conga-percussionist heralded the entry of veteran Armando Peraza – who, I can tell you from seeing this band live in 1973, had one heck of an onstage presence and added a lot to the sound. Drummer Mike Shrieve and percussionist `Chepito’ are still there, both evident in the music.

Altogether `Caravanserai’ showcases contributions by some 16 different musicians and is a masterpiece of arrangement and production; it marks the beginning of a rich and productive journey into deeper, more complex jazz-fusion territory which continued with `Welcome’ and – especially – `Borboletta.’

The trademark rock-salsa fusion sound which made Santana’s first three studio albums a global commercial success gives way here to more thoughtful, jazz-like compositions, though you can hear the genealogy of the Woodstock-era band still there underneath. Of the 10 numbers on the album, only three have any vocal content and the first six pieces (i.e. the first `side’ of the original vinyl LP) flow together as one, with no real breaks.

`Caravanserai’ though impressive on first listening, is not such an instantly-accessible musical listening experience as the first three albums. The band experiments with different time-signatures and instrumentation in complex compositions to weave an engrossing musical tapestry which wins over the head, the heart and the soul where repeat-listening reveals ever more depth and subtlety.

If you like to seek out great music of any era and especially if you have a penchant for jazz-rock fusion and you’ve never heard `Caravanserai’, then you’re in for a rare treat. This mid-1970s period was the high-point of Carlos Santana’s long creative career: here he is in his prime, a master of his craft with experience and global success behind him, but wanting to explore music a bit deeper, maybe with less popular appeal but ultimately more personally satisfying, more valuable and enduring. Put on the headphones, lie back, crank up the volume and be transported to a land rich, beautiful and sublime.

I am BTW writing this in Hatta, close to the UAE/Oman border. As the Sun rises, a herd of wild camels is visible on a distant hill to the South: a real-life spectacle almost identical to the original cover-art of this: Santana’s great, timeless fourth album.

March 12, 2013 - Posted by | Santana Caravanserai |

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