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Caldera: Caldera / Sky Islands

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Mention the word "fusion" and a list of familiar names often turns up: Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams' Lifetime, Return to Forever and Weather Report. But what about Caldera? Aficionados of the genre will probably know about them but, to many listeners, they will be a new discovery and, thanks to a BGO reissue of their first two albums on Capitol, it's now possible to take a deeper look at the group that emerged at the height of fusion in the seventies.

The single CD twofer combines Caldera (Capitol, 1976) with Sky Islands (Capitol, 1977) and showcases the group's singular take on fusion with a solid dose of Latin rhythms. As guitarist Jorge Strunz explains to Charles Waring in the liner notes: "I had an idea of a fusion band that had Latin American elements in it. I moved to LA from the east coast early in the '70s and started looking for people that could make that possible since I became very interested in the fusion movement of those times. A few years later, I think it was around 1976, I was able to put a band together."

The band members were born in many different parts of the world: Strunz (Costa Rica), pianist Eduardo DelBarrio (Argentina), saxophonist Steve Tavaglione (California), percussionist Mike Azevedo (Brazil), drummer Carlos Vega (Cuba) and electric bassist Dean Cortez (Florida). It's no coincidence that each player's birthplace is mentioned on the original sleeve. It emphasizes the group's international background that played an important role in shaping its sound.

Producer Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders also influenced the sound initially but, on the debut, he was taming the rhythms rather than setting them free. Still, he allowed the wild rhythms to grow, and a track like "Exaltation" is worthy of its name with restless rhythms taking in funk, samba and exotic percussion. However, the music can also be cool, as in "Synesthesia" which sounds like the soundtrack for a blaxploitation movie with funk guitar, creamy bass, subtle percussion, simmering synths, punctuated horn lines and guest Robert De Souza taking a trombone solo.

Caldera attracted prominent admirers, including Earth, Wind & Fire pianist Larry Dunn. In the sleeve notes, he is thanked for bringing "positive energy," but on the follow-up, Sky Islands, he was enlisted as a producer, replacing Henderson. Together with Strunz and Barrio, he unfolded a wilder and more eclectic aesthetic, bringing in the vocal talent of a young Dianne Reeves and a string section on the ethereal, funky Brazilian ballad, "Ancient Source."

Caldera's musical vision is widescreen and cinematic, but the wondrous thing is that it never becomes too much, which has always been the danger of fusion. In some cases, the grand gestures can turn into mannerisms. Caldera keeps the wide soundscapes in check with organically earthy rhythms and a perfect balance between electric and acoustic. The result is a sound that is surprisingly contemporary and, rather than being a journey back in time, revisiting these records is just as much a peek into the future. Hopefully, BGO will also reissue the remaining two Capitol releases, including Dreamer (Capitol, 1979) which Strunz has highlighted as the group's best effort. For now, there's reason to rejoice that the beginning of the group's story is here.

Track Listing: Guanacaste; Coastin'; Exaltation; Synesthesia; Out of the blue; El juguete; Sky islands; Ancient source; It used to be; Pegasus; Carnavalito; Seraphim (Angel); Indigo fire; Triste; Pescador (Fisherman).

Personnel: Jorge Strunz: acoustic guitar & electric guitar, percussion; Eduardo del Barrrio: acoustic & electric piano, synthesizer, percussion, clavinet, vocal, Moog, Roland & Oberheim polyphonic; Steve Tavaglione: soprano, alto & tenor saxophone, flute, bass, alto flute; Mike “Baiano” Azevedo: congas, percussion; Dean Cortez: electric bass; Hector Andrade: timbales, congas, percussion; Raul De Souza: bass, trombone; Roberto da Silva: percussion; Carolyn Dennis: vocal; Larry Dunn: synthesizer; Dianne Reeves: vocal; Chester Thompson: drums; Ralph Humphrey: drums; Ralph Rickert: flugelhorn; Ray Armando: percussion; Steve Barrios Jr.: percussion; Paul Shore: violin; Bonnie Douglas: violin; Harry Bluestone: violin; Marshall Sosson: violin; Nathan Ross: violin; Anatol Kaminsky: violin; Jack Pepper: violin; Irma Neumann: violin; Janet Lakatos: viola; Louis Kievman: viola; Frederick Seykora: cello; Selene Hurford: cello.

Title: Caldera / Sky Islands | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: BGO Records

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