Too Heavy or Too Light?
Richard B. Luhrs | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 06/25/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Released in 1972, CARAVANSERAI was Santana's fourth album and first overt stab at the then-ascendant jazz fusion market. It was also, according to the liner notes in this attractively packaged reissue, an attempt to convey in musical terms the spiritual awakening which leader/guitarist Carlos Santana had undergone through his involvement with guru Sri Chinmoy. If so, it's rather ironic that his newfound mysticism led Carlos to craft what anyone might have expected of him at the time: a percussion-driven package which slicked up the trademark Santana sound while dispensing with its more radio-friendly elements and any sort of clear song cycle. In the era of Return to Forever, Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, CARAVANSERAI was hardly revolutionary, even if its provenance might have raised a few eyebrows.
While all of the members of the classic Santana lineup appear on this album, they are never all together and only Carlos and drummer Mike Shrieve are on hand throughout. Of the numerous unfamiliar musicians present, some would remain in the band for years while others would never play with Santana again. Thus the start of the revolving-door personnel changes which remain one of Carlos' trademarks to this day. To some extent this is reflected in the music, which is admirably played and suitably spacey but lacks the strong stamp of collective personality so evident on CARAVANSERAI's three predecessors - not to mention anything which might qualify as a likely single. This is basically an instrumental suite in the jazz-lite vein so popular at the time, with more and tastier percussion and (thanks to Carlos) worse vocals than the average. A solid piece of work, certainly, but one understandably left out of most compilations and little known among the uninitiate.
If the jammier selections on the first few Santana LPs are your thing, CARAVANSERAI makes sense as a follow-up purchase. If you're into the early efforts of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin, it could almost qualify as a must. If you consider "Black Magic Woman" to be the apex of this band's career, it's surprising that you're even reading this, but you can rest assured you'll have little interest in the collection in question. To put it another way, for headphone people only."