To the left of Mizue Hamilton's colorful painting of a jungle scene framed by the outlines of South America and Africa reads Masters Of Funk And Soul through the clear spine. If this is what it takes to get a 24-bit remaster of Caldera's 1976 long-OP debut from EMI, so be it. A funky measure certainly sounds off here and there, but samba and salsa influences are much more prevalent, with all but two members of this legendary sextet having emigrated from Central and South America.
Caldera (the term for the large crater left when a volcano's cone collapses inward) was the brainchild of [L.A. sessioners] keyboardist Eduardo del Barrio and guitarist Jorge Strunz; originally from Argentina and Costa Rica, respectively, del Barrio (who went on to play with Earth, Wind & Fire) and Strunz (who later became half of the successful world music act Strunz & Farah) set out to form a new group that would meld the energy of rock, the ingenuity of jazz-fusion, and the fortitude of various Latin and Afro musical styles. Steve Tavaglione, a native Californian and woodwind player, made a certain addition, while bassist Dean Cortez had moved from Florida; drummer Carlos Vega was born in Cuba, and percussionist Mike Azevedo "Baiano" in Brazil. Apparently, only Strunz was a naturalized American citizen at the time of recording.
It's del Barrio's soft string synth and electric piano tones that open "Guanacaste," quickly joined by Strunz's mercurial picking. A sexy soprano sax solo by Steve Tavaglione surges forth, and guest trombonist Raul De Souza follows suit. "Exaltation" becomes del Barrio's showcase with sweet synth & Clav vamps, and a superb — and long — monophonic solo halfway through, pitch and mod tweakery galore. "Synesthesia" also offers a slick electric piano solo that surfs the waves made by Vega's & Azevedo's satin-smooth percolating grooves. But it's Strunz's dazzling run that adorns this cut as he simultaneously channels Santana and Di Meola and charts the overlap between the edges of rock, jazz and samba. Tavaglione's sax takes the lead on the most commercial sounding number, "Out Of The Blue." However laidback it may be, it still incorporates another fab solo by Eduardo del Barrio, and overall is leagues ahead of any "lite fusion" dreck that suffocates the bins today. "El Juguete" (The Toy) is Caldera's final, longest excursion, exceeding eight minutes. Again, Tavaglione and De Souza take center stage, the former turning in an outstanding solo on alto flute. All the while, del Barrio's cascading piano timbres and Strunz's jagged fretwork lurk on the sidelines, waiting to move in on the action for one last kill. Which is exactly what Strunz does, turning in perhaps his hottest work on the album.
EMI/Capitol included no bonus tracks (not even live versions), and this might be for the better, as the album remains a concise work of Latin prog-fusion with no filler whatsoever. If anything, bassist Dean Cortez's deft groove-conscious lines won't remind you that he didn't deviate from his post much, if at all, until the final seconds of "El Juguete" play out. Bass solos are a requirement in fusion, but with del Barrio, Strunz and Tavaglione cutting it up so much, this is forgiven. To fans of Weather Report, Return To Forever, Al Di Meola and Santana: Caldera is practically note-perfect — hence, a must. Now let's see if the same can be done for Sky Islands (1977), Time and Chance (1978), and Dreamer (1979).
1. Guanacaste (6:30)
2. Coastin' (4:11)
3. Exaltation (6:50)
4. Synesthesia (7:42)
5. Out Of The Blue (4:45)
6. El Juguete (8:28)
Total time – 38:41