Posted on

Album Review – Santana Caravanserai

santana caravanserai gatefold album cover

You know when you look at an Album cover and think, whoa man, that looks cool. Let’s go there. Such is the case when you look at the cover of Caravanserai. With a cover that depicts a desert people crossing a sand tundra with a huge glowing orange sun in the sky you know you might be onto something special. You can’t but wonder what the music is like inside that album cover. I love diving into those kinds of record. I knew nothing of the band Santana before listening to this one. So with the dark nights drawing in and the news hideous I was off. It is the time of year when closing out an evening with an album you’ve never listened to before from a band you know nothing about just seems like the right thing to do. Thus was the start of my journey into the world of Caravanserai.

The album starts with chirping crickets and a Beatles style sax playing in the background with a disorientating melody, it could almost be a didgeridoo. Then comes the bass and symbols, I can almost feel that Massive Attack may have been influenced by this kind of record. This sounds like Nineties ambient music. Nice. Am I at Cafe Del Mar?

Exploring Side 1

Lots of guitar solos, samba drums, Shaft style twangy rifts follow on from the opening on side 1. And, it is a very long beginning, these guys know how to set a scene and build anticipation. Some organs follow with a distinct Jazzy Prog Rock feel. We don’t get vocals until track four on side 1, but thats ok. Who needs formulae when you’re discovering? Those vocals don’t last long but they are good. They lead you in further to a Jazzy cavern setting a really nice immersive ambience. This record doesn’t sound old somehow. It does feels like a journey, I understand the cover better now and its significance. Some could find the guitars solos indulgent but that all depends on the listener, one mans heaven is another’s hell. It doesn’t bother me because this is new and that’s what I’m up for tonight. A huge track at the end of side 1 and the vocals are back, the track feels very jazz like again, different tempos but a nice undercurrent of rhythm that stays constant. Some great bass plucks ending side one and we are through ready for what awaits us on side 2. Great start.

Exploring Side 2

Side two starts way out there, a bit like the beginning of a Seventies Bruce Lee or James Bond film. Bongo drums and some gentle Cuban like vocals in the background. In track two we’ve got some more nice vocals back with organs. This has an avant garde cafe culture jazz feel but definitely more eclectic. Uniformity isn’t welcome here. This band has got me and it is taking me where it pleases. When we hit track three the tempo picks up with a samba drum driving the track forward. I can almost feel Dr Kananga chasing James Bond down the street. Some wild organs playing now twisting my melon with a Doors feel. This is quite a ride and I’m enjoying it. The last track of side two is epic. Huge guitar solos, symbols, deep drums and a carcophony of rhythm bringing us to a dramatic end. Wow. I think this Jazz Prog Rock extravaganza just ate my brain.

This album is not for the faint hearted. This isn’t easy listening. Santana start you slow and lull you in with this LP. The album cover and the music do each other justice on this record. We’ve all seen album covers that promise but often the music lets you down. Not so with Caravanserai. This record could frighten some people off with its lack of uniformity and insistence on Jazzy surprise. I liked it, it would definitely find a home in my collection. The music is escapist and transportive. Thumbs up from me.

I’ve selected track four from side one for the music sample for you guys to listen to here, its one of my favourites on the album.

Santana Caravanserai - Just In Time To See The Sun Vinyl Record Play

I’m glad I listened to this album completely cold without any awareness of the music or band, sometimes its such a delight to have a genuinely new discovery. Here are a few details about the band Santana and the album Caravanserai.

About Santana

Santana The Band

The bands name Santana is drawn from the bands founding members name Carlos Santana. Carlos was born in Mexico in July 1947. His musical style is rooted in Jazz, Blues and Latin sounds. In 1966 Carlos formed his band Santana and it was in 1969 and the Woodstock festival where the band came to prominence.

They were signed by Columbia records and had a string of hit records including Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va. The album Caravanserai I’ve reviewed here was released in 1972 was at the height of the bands powers.

The word Caravanserai has two meanings. An Indian Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda stated the word to mean eternal cycle of reincarnation. In the East the word is said to mean a large area that provides refuge for caravans of people travelling communally. I rather like both meanings and they suit the music wonderfully. The album peaked at number six in the R&B charts and was well received by the musical press.

Colin Davenport