Friday, Nov. 7, 2003 | 8:31 a.m.
If you're already a fan of Santana's acclaimed first three studio albums, don't pick up the band's fourth disc expecting more of the same.
Though it was released just 13 months after "Santana III," 1972's "Caravanserai" marked a dramatic turning point for the Latin-flavored rockers.
Where the first three records' charms are immediately obvious -- loaded as they are with FM standards such as "Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va" and "No One to Depend On" -- "Caravanserai" is a musical exploration that bears its sweetest fruit with time and repeated listenings.
Recorded at a time when Santana the band was building a new lineup and Carlos Santana the man was searching for a new spirituality, "Caravanserai" is no half-baked transition piece.
Rather, it stands as Santana's finest moment, an atmospheric blend of percussive rock and jazz not unlike something Miles Davis might have released during the early days of his fusion phase.
The tracks are titled, but I've never bothered to learn the names. I prefer to think of the disc as a continuous work of music, something that can be said of few albums in rock history.
The sounds are primarily instrumental. Just three songs feature lyrics, with not a word spoken until track No. 4, "Just in Time to See the Sun." That general lack of vocals helps give the disc its overall timeless quality.
Drummer Michael Shrieve is joined by three fine percussionists -- Armando Peraza, James Mingo Lewis and Jose "Chepita" Areas -- and the quartet provides Santana with a typically dynamic set of intense rhythms and backbeats.
Organist Greg Rolie and second guitarist Neal Schon are on board for their final Santana excursion before leaving to form Journey, and the pair spice the album with aggressive fills and solos.
But above all, "Caravanserai" is a testament to Carlos Santana's musical vision and searing guitar style.
His emotive playing on "Song of the Wind" ranks with his work on "Samba Pa Ti" and "Flame Sky" among his most memorable moments of instrumental inspiration.
Five years after the Sony's archival Legacy record label began its Santana reissues project, "Caravanserai" finally received the treatment it demands. The remastered edition, released in September, is easy to find for less than $12.
Year of release: 1973 (Reissued in 2003, Sony/Legacy).
Tracklisting: "Eternal Caravan of Reincarnation," "Waves Within," "Look Up (To See What's Coming Down)," "Just in Time to See the Sun," "Song of the Wind," "All the Love of the Universe," "Future Primitive," "Stone Flower," "La Fuente Del Ritmo," "Every Step of the Way."