A Voyage to Distant Lounges with Caldera – by Peter Nelson-King

I’ll be the first to admit that the avalanche you just witnessed is a bit more “70’s” than we’ve done on ROTU. Perhaps it was just in the ash-encrusted air. I know I got black lung just looking at that cover (as stretched it is on YouTube), but enough with the zingers. Caldera was an excellent group that fell victim to that all-too-unfortunate planned obsolescence of distribution: an art object that’s owned by a major label (in this case Capitol Records) and didn’t sell. As a result, their work is pretty hard to find on CD (at least legitimately or for reasonable prices), but thankfully the piracy juggernaut that is YouTube has helped out a great deal. Let’s hear it for team work.
Founded in 1976, Caldera was a multi-American effort to combine the then thriving jazz fusion scene (their primary influences being Return to Forever and Weather Report) with Pan-Latin influences. Pan-Latin may seem like something I just made up (as I did), but it fits what Caldera considered to be Latin music, which encompassed everything from Afro-Cuban to Flamenco to Salsa and anything else written in Spanich. The mind runs wild. Pulsing rhythms. Synths. Bongos. Keytars. The best-yet-found precursor to Earth Wind & Fire (who would be supplanted by a former member of this group). Perhaps we should just take another listen.
After floating off on a Tomita carpet ride, we hit Heavy Weather and all is right in the world. It’s almost too lovely to behold, swooping from acid to sitcom opener to soul-enriching sax in the blink of an eye. And yet it all works. This track isn’t as Latin heavy as the previous one (aside from a surging auxilary percussion drive), but I’m not one to pigeonhole. I’ll let this track make up for that:
This kind of brilliance lasted them four albums (1976-1979) but they just refused to sell. I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a Sam Hill shame that is, and everybody on YouTube, AllMusic, and Discogs agrees. They broke up after their fourth album The Dreamer and split into other projects, such as the aforementioned Earth Wind & Fire participation. A discussion on why they didn’t get the Big Break could shoot all over the place, with tangents on the public’s willingness to cross-breed genre tropes, to speculation on Capitol’s marketing, to the general direction of Jazz Fusion at the time and what people were expecting to hear if the words “Latin Flanger” are uttered. My first question is to whether or not record company executives actually listen to their product before making decisions (Answer = ? and 1/2). A lone track on the suspicious looking Capitol Rare, Volume 1 compilation isn’t doing it for me.
I’ll leave you with this last portal to a mythical land, with keyboards by Larry Dunn (hey, didn’t he co-found EW&F?)
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