SANTANA — Caravanserai (review)

SANTANA — Caravanserai album cover Album · 1972 · Latin Rock/Soul Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
M.Neumann
Before absorbing the near-unanimous acclaim earned over the years by Santana's 1972 studio masterpiece, the band had meant little more to me than a ubiquitous presence on the AM radio dial in my high school days during the 1970s. Many decades down the road, I will now officially and in a public forum kick myself in the rump for ignoring too long a superlative musical experience. Older and wiser, so forth and so on...

Jazz-Rock Fusion was of course the hot buzzword in the early '70s, as spearheaded by such pioneering groups like WEATHER REPORT, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, and RETURN TO FOREVER, all formed (and not coincidentally) by alumni of the MILES DAVIS "Bitches Brew" sessions (and likewise all bands that flew beneath my own shortsighted radar at the time).

Carlos Santana never played alongside the legendary jazz trumpeter, but he was certainly a fan. And his eponymous band brought something new and unique to the freshly-set Fusion banquet: a strong sense of Latin rhythm and rock 'n' roll intensity, together reaching its highest combined level of expression on the band's fourth studio effort. From the evocative simplicity of the Near-Eastern cover art to the long, unresolved fade-out of the last, furious jam (with discreet orchestral accompaniment) during "Every Step of the Way", this is a near perfect recording, and a timeless reminder of what music is meant to be.

It's also the one Santana album rarely acknowledged in any of the band's numerous greatest-hit packages and best-of compilations. And for good reason: even with the occasional vocals it still plays like an organic, entirely instrumental concept album, and the songs (to their credit) all lack the top-40 radio airplay appeal of hits like "Evil Ways" and "Black Magic Woman".

In other words, it's an album aiming at something higher than simple commercial success. Don't expect to hear any singing at all until well after the twelve-minute mark, and then just a brief interlude (during "Just In Time To See the Sun") before the more assured salsa-rock fusion of "Song of the Wind", featuring some of Santana's most relaxed yet ecstatic soloing (on an album already overflowing with uncomplicated musical joy).

The entire effort glows with the same, pervasive mood of unforced optimism. Check out some of the track titles ("All the Love in the Universe": hardly a jukebox-friendly moniker). Note too the relaxed, atonal saxophone intro and near-subliminal layering of acoustic bass and percussive allsorts in "Eternal Caravan of Reincarnation", so reminiscent, at least to this aging Crimhead, of the chorus to "Formentera Lady", from the King Crimson album "Islands", released one year earlier.

Strictly speaking, this album shouldn't even be considered Jazz, or Rock, or Jazz-Rock. Like the fusions of MILES DAVIS at the time, it resists any easy-fit categorizing, and ought to be heard as nothing more or less than Music, purely and (not always so) simply.
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