SUNDANCES

One Saturday afternoon in October 1976 I rode my bicycle round to Rod Amberton’s place to watch a total eclipse. It seemed like a friendly thing to do, given that this sort of solar phenomenon only occurred every few decades and Melbourne was, apparently, a prime location from which to view it. Assuming the clouds gave permission, of course.

Arriving a few minutes before the big yellow orb was due to be blanked by the dark side of the moon – yes, I know it’s more like the sun being followed by a moonshadow, but some poetic Floyd-licence please, we weren’t into Cat Stevens – I dropped the bicycle on the grass and knocked on the screen door at the back of the house. Silence. Hm. It hadn’t occurred to me that they might be out. When I say ‘they’ I guess I meant Rod, as the family was not really one that did stuff together. The older brother was indeed quite a bit older, Rod’s Father worked all the time and his sweet Mum mostly kept things ticking over at home. But not today.

I could see into the glassed-in porch cum family room off which Rod’s bedroom lay, far enough away from the proper adult living areas that we could play records up to distortion point – in those days somewhere around 15 watts per channel, don’t you know – until quite late. Maybe half-past eleven.

But in the singular present it was half-past four and a decision point. No time to ride home to watch the eclipse in my own back yard so, feeling just a little uncomfortable about occupying the Amberton patch on my own, I sank down onto the grass and waited.

What was memorable was the silence. It was quiet. It was still. Though there was some cloud haziness, a dark scimitar clearly crept across the shining disc, carving light into shadow. Then it wasn’t quiet. Birds. Raising confused voices to this unexpected evening. Chirruping their outrage at being robbed of four hours of daylight and crankily preparing for sleep like a banished child.

Then before they could get properly settled the twilight began slowly departing and, like a curtain pulled back, the bright afternoon stage was once again revealed. The birds cheered. I rode home.

Later, having dutifully deposited my 20 cents in the designated money box on top of the fridge, I phoned the Amberton residence and ascertained that Rod was now in residence. So I rode over there again. It was after the real actual twilight by this time, and getting chilly. After watching a news report of the eclipse we repaired to his room and I once more sank earthwards, this time onto a cushion against the wall. A stack of LPs were slouched against the wall next to me so I leafed through them, extracting a cover that seemed truly apposite after the afternoon’s entertainment. No, not the prism one; Santana’s Caravanserai.

Santana - Caravanserai gatefoldIMG_5554

“Pass it over, I’ll put it on,” said Rod.

The needle thunked onto the vinyl and a moment later, emerging from the background crackles came the quintessentially summer sound of crickets, their phased whistlechoir being joined by a keening sax sounding an evening call to prayer. The bass and percussion entered, building very slowly with carefully placed guitar notes then sustained electric piano chords like ancient temple bells. I was entranced.

Forty years later, I put on Caravanserai again and once more I’m transported.

Santana Caravanserai

Australian, US, and Japanese Quadraphonic. Oh yeah.

After the introduction of ‘Eternal caravan of reincarnation’ the energy picks up with rolling, soaring glory in ‘Waves within’, powered by the transcendental guitar of Carlos Santana but given a solid grounding by the percussion section of Michael Shrieve and James ‘Mingo’ Lewis.

The segue into ‘Look up (to see what’s coming down)’ provides a change up to a Latin soul-funk groove of hip-swinging potency. Greg Rolie’s organ adds smouldering urgency echoed by Santana’s guitar lines. This in turn flows into the first song, ‘Just in time to see the sun’, delivered in impassioned rock style by the organist.

Things settle down for the spacious ‘Song of the wind’, a superb showcase for the leader’s six string stylings. The incorporation of jazz fusion textures and exploratory solos into the band was the defining feature of Caravanserai, making it a perhaps little harder for fans of the first three albums to access, but ensuring its timelessness. Side one concludes with ‘All the love in the universe’ where, after an attention capturing introduction, a human chorus introduces the second vocal, an uplifting lyric that seeks to share Santana’s commitment to his spiritual growth. (See also the Santana/McLaughlin collaboration from the following year, 1973’s Love Devotion and Surrender).

New thoughts will purify my mind

And clean my body

New lives will fall together

Like an endless story

Now I’m an unbeliever and sceptic of eye-rolling insistence, yet by the end of this side – with the voices, pumping organ, ebullient bass lines and soul-piercing guitar – friends, I’m ready to convert, to don the white robe and eshew all worldly pollutants of the spirit. Except my four copies of Caravanserai. Hm. Perhaps a little way short of full Enlightenment as yet.

IMG_5562

‘Future primitive’ opens the second side with atmospheric strokes of sound before pattering percussion enters, stage left (and right). Congas bongos and timbales are prominent in this piece. No surprise: it was written by percussionists Jose Areas and Mingo Lewis. Michael Shrieve, a prince amongst drummers, is highly audible too. The spacey opening flows into the third (and final) song ‘Stone flower’. This Latin-infused ballad combines human wonder with the natural environment in a way that is implicit throughout the album, including the wonderfully evocative cover photo (by Joan Chase).

Just like a ship out on the sea

floating alone no one around me or beyond me

the sun is on me,

Then suddenly I felt a kiss out of the breeze

that did caress me and possess me

oh it astounds me

IMG_5558

Although I labelled ‘Stone flower’ a ballad, that is not strictly accurate. There is more rhythmic movement and melodic spark in this piece than most gentle songs. Still, you notice when the percussive pace picks up for instrumental ‘La fuente del ritmo’ where second guitarist Neal Schon plays some lovely harmonised lines with the leader. Again we have that exciting combination of Latin groove – a fast one here – with flowing, dancing jazz-rock guitar lines. In this piece the addition of a Tom Coster electric piano solo is just the cherry on top. Or perhaps chilli.

The final piece, ‘Every step of the way’ is the longest on the album, beginning pensively with a pulse bass (Tom Rutley) and spare stabs of guitar. A tension builds, it is dramatic music that utterly transcends mainstream rock music (and much fusion too!) while being entirely recognisable. Subtle orchestral textures add to the cinemascope vision of this rich instrumental climax to a very special album.

Caravanserai belongs in the bright constellation of progressive rock albums that transcend categories. Like the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire, it will not be eclipsed, no matter how many decades pass. Though we would do well to remember the warning of Omar Kyham who reminds us that although art and earth may endure, for humans, all things must pass…

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai

Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day

How Sultan after Sultan with his pomp

Abode his hour or two, and went his way

Santana - Caravanserai

36 comments

  1. The eclipse of October 1976 found me in the middle of a dusty road somewhere in South Australia wondering when the sun was going to disappear. It didn’t (well, not completely); Rick, who had suggested the trip, had got the place-name wrong. No sign either of a Festival held in the event’s honour.

    Never mind – great post and great album.

    Thanks.

    DD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t know if you followed the link, but I found some quaint ABC TV footage that had a slight air of the Python Eclipse sketch. ‘Oh dear, the light’s going…’

      Pity your eclipse road-trip didn’t quite work out.

      I was at Melb Uni at the time and some friends formed a special Club (got a grant and all) called ‘Friends of the Sun’. Then made brilliant posters (that were instantly stolen, including I’m afraid to admit, by yours truly) and even organised a protest March (that got brief bemused coverage on the evening news).

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      1. Yes, I watched the ABC news clip. As we were in a desert somewhere in SA, I missed the original broadcast. I did not know it got so dark. Also, I particularly liked the shot showing the shadow of the moon on the earth. For us, the light merely dimmed somewhat.
        [I can not remember if Rick came up with a plausible excuse for taking us to ‘Whoop-whoop’ (or perhaps it was Whoop-whoop North) because I slept on the back seat all the way back home].

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Sleeping loudly is a time-honoured way of expressing displeasure. Hope the back seat was more comfortable than Whoop-whoop.

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  2. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Danica.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your storytelling drew me in and I could picture the events unfolding. Nicely done.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Paolo M. · · Reply

    “enlightened” on the way to a solar eclipse – eheh, there where the metaphor meets real life 😉
    i remember that album. my brother had it. but i don’t, and i have all his records. so, someone borrowed it along the track and never returned it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess that qualifies as a cosmic joke, eh?
      🙂
      … and that is why I never loan records. As related here.

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      1. Paolo M. · · Reply

        hehe, at least you loaned the record to a girl! consider it a weakness out of feelings 😉 una tantum!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Bruce I enjoy these ‘where were you when you first heard ____’ tales – and the term apposite is new to me, but quite appositely used in this case!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Geoff. I like to put those lonely teenage years spent reading the thesaurus (and yearning for a life) to use.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As a teenager I played guitar in a garage band and one of my best mates was the second guitarist and we would muck about at each other’s home’s when we could get away with turning our amps up.
    I first heard this album at his house.
    It belonged to his dad. I was amazed that an ”old person” could like this sort of jazz/ rock.
    I had heard Black Magic Woman and my mate Graham and I had seen Santana on the Woodstock movie at the cinema but that was all.
    Turns out his dad had loads of similar music and after the first listen to this album I was hooked.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice story! I’d wondered where your appreciation of jazz-rock had originated. Cheers.

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      1. A while later, when I first heard Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy I hated it and considered it nothing but noise.
        Ah … but then I learned how to listen 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Bruce. This also happens to be the next Santana album on my list and it sounds like I wont be disappointed when I eventually get my hands on it!

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    1. Ooh yes, J. You’ll probably want at least 3 copies!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course!

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  7. One of my favourite Santana albums too. Is there much/any difference between the several versions you have (particularly the quad)?

    I had my total eclipse experience in 1999 in the UK. I took my then 9 year old son down to Start Point in Devon, we slept in the car parked by a village green which was teeming with hippy types. When the time came the next morning it was cloudy, with just the occasional glimpse of the sun through thinner patches of cloud. Watching the darkness get nearer over the sea and the way the birds went crazy has really stuck in my memory – magic times!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice eclipse story, sir! The clouds do indeed hold the strongest hand in matters of sky access.

      Little difference between the pressings that I could here, though if forced I’d rank them (1) US, (2) Jap, (3) Aus. The CD remaster is very nice too. I think there might be a recent vinyl re-issue, but I’m currently working on the principle that three vinyl editions is enough. For now.

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  8. Nice one. When I was a kid I thought every adult in the world owned a copy of Caravanserai (I used to thumb through people’s collections, because I loved the pictures).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was ‘gold’ in Canada and France and did well in the US (platinum) but not really a monster anywhere else (that I could ascertain). So perhaps just the enlightened circles your family moved in, Joe?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bunch of Welsh hippies? yup.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Neal Schon fascinates me, a man famous for being in Journey who played wonderfully with Santana and Betty Davis too.

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    1. I like the first Journey album a lot. But after that, oo-er…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Paolo M. · · Reply

    off topic, but interesting (well, i still have to read the article actually…;)

    http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/jul/10/the-photographers-revolutionised-pop-album-artwork

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ah, Song of the Wind. I’d forgotten how good it is! Thanks for reminding me, VC. And great post, BTW.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much C-Man. And yes, Caravanserai is in that elite category of timeless albums.

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  12. Great post. Caravanserai is a nice record with so many spetacular songs. And the last album that Greg Rollie recorded. i consider this part of the Santana career the best. As a brazilian let me just add that this song is from Antonio Carlos Jobim (A.C.Jobim as noted in the label) and this is actually a cover version. Jobim is also known, for the “The Girl of Ipanema” song.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sorry,, i forgot to add the name of the song. It’s Stone Flower.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. […] pal Rod Amberton and I had ridden our bikes round to Neil’s parent’s house not to listen to records, but to see […]

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  15. Yup! When cds first came out this is one of the first cross overs for CB into that land. You know that game Bruce. I popped on the original record a while ago. Still does it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does indeed. One of my all time favourite summer albums (Not quite timely for you, I know!).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “All time favorite summer albums” I have to bite on that one. I like it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Nice idea for a post. But when to write to satisfy both Northern and Southern Hemisphere friends?!

          Liked by 1 person

  16. […] previous Black Sabbath post (the ‘heavy’ link) or another memoir story such as the one on the eclipse of the sun hinting at loneliness? Would this convey the theme? Frowny […]

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