Caldera ‘Caldera’/’Sky Islands’ (BBR) 3/5

Latin-fusion outfit Caldera are are a remnant of the 1970s and jazz-fusion fans who like their jazz on the smoother side will appreciate this generously timed pairing of albums which were the group’s first two. Caldera were the brainchild of Costa Rican-born guitarist Jorge Strunz and after he eventually made his way to the States, where he became influenced by first flamenco and then rock and jazz, falling under the influence of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. The group are a multinational band with a strong Latin presence with Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and from the States, California and Florida, all represented, but it is important to stress that they do not sound anything like the Chicano (Mexican-American) Latin-fusion acts that took a leaf out of Santana’s book and that had a harder Latin edge to them. The first album, produced by ex-Crusaders trombonist Wayne Henderson, is the more disparate of the two insufficiently focussed, but does contain the meatier material while the second is unquestionably more polished and concise, yet at times is a little too clean for its own good. The former, released in 197,6 features at least two interesting numbers in ‘Exaltation’, a Latin-fusion burner which incorporates subtle Brazilian percussion while ‘El Juguete’ is probably the strongest album cut and includes some lovely flute. The second album, which dates from 1977, was jointly produced by Strunz and keyboardist Ed del Barrio with Earth, Wind and Fire’s Larry Dunn helping out and performing on synthesizer with Black Jazz drummer Chester Thompson featuring on drums on the track ‘Pegasus’ while Afro-Cuban jazz percussionists Ray Armando and Steve Berrios are included throughout. Vocalist Dianne Reeves made her recording debut on this album and ‘Ancient source’ is a laid back soulful tune that has long been a favourite among fusion fans. The singer’s wordless vocals grace the title track which is probably the most compelling of the numbers and equally the one that most bears the hallmark of Earth.Wind and Fire. If the Latin component is not firing on all cylinders, then the funk-infused bassline of ‘Pegasus’ with flute will excite and there is some pan-American folk grooves on ‘Carnavalito’ Overall excellent value for money for fans of jazz-fusion and terrifically informative biographical notes which provide useful historical context. The group would record two further albums in 1978 (‘Time’) and 1979 (‘Dreamer’). Tim Stenhouse

Loleatta Holloway ‘Loleatta’ (BBR) 5/5

Loleatta Holloway
Loleatta Holloway was one of the classiest soul singers who was extremely versatile and equally adept at interpreting heart wrenching ballads as she was with uptempo dancers. This expanded edition of her strongest album for Salsoul is a fitting tribute to the singer who passed away in 2011. Holloway started her caeer during the early to mid-1970s on the little known independent label Aware records out of Georgia and while there she cut a superb single and album both entitled ‘Cry to me’, produced by husband Floyd Smith, which have both become real soul classics. One of the other songs featured was a mid-tempo song ‘Casanova’ and this would be re-worked as a disco stomper by duet Coffee in 1980. When Aware suddenly folded in 1976, the brothers Cayre came into the picture. Initially interested in setting up a Mexican music distribution in New York, the brothers sof Syrian-American heritage soon discovered that it would be more profitable to branch into the emerging new Latin music which fledgling label Fania was pioneering. By the mid-1970s disco was in the ascendancy and while hearing the production talents of husband Smith, Ken Cayre was introduced to Loleatta and she became one of the first non-Latin singers to sign for Salsoul. This album was the magnificent result. Three bona fide dance classics are included and in both album and extended 12″ versions. for good measure If ‘Hit and Run’ has rightly become an anthem, the other two are just as worthy dancefloor winners. Arguably the pick of the trio is the classy mid-tempo tune ‘Dreamin’ while for stylish orchestrations the superb ‘We’re getting stronger (the longer we stay together)’ is another fine contender. However, it would be wrong to assume that Loleatta here focussed solely on uptempo numbers. Two Floyd Smith productions are superior ballads with the gentle ‘Worn out broken heart’ a quiet storm favourite. For a lovely, varied mid-tempo tune, Curtis Mayfield’s ‘What now’ rounds off the terrific set. It helped greatly that Norman Harris was in charge of the majority of the album’s songs and that of course meant Holloway was backed by the MFSB house band at Sigma studios. With no less than five bonus tracks and informative sleeve notes, the listener is in for a sonic treat.

Tim Stenhouse

Vernon Burch ‘When I Get Back Home’ (BBR) 4/5

If the term neo-soul was coined at some stage during the 1990s, then Vernon Burch’s 1976 album contained within pre-dates it by a good twenty years and has been a major re-discovery. What is of particular interest is that there is a large dose of input from none other than Stevie Wonder when he as as the apogee of his musical powers and in fact Wonder was recording at the same studio in Los Angeles and by chance came across Burch who had paid for recording time until midnight. The result was that key members of the Wonder band perform on the majority of tracks and they include keyboardist Greg Philinganes and the brass section comprising trumpeter Ray Maldonado and saxophonist Hank Redd. The cherry on the cake, however, is the participation of Stevie Wonder himself on three songs, performing on keyboards. A young twenty-one year old Burch was clearly inspired and the overall sound is a halfway house between mid-1970s Donny Hathaway and Wonder himself. Interestingly Burch composed virtually all the songs, but simply being in the same studio as Mr Wonder has definitely rubbed off. Probably the best known song is ‘Mr Sin’ which was co-written by Susaye Greene (who also wrote ‘I can’t help it’ for Michael Jackson) and is a delightful gospel-influenced song in a secular idiom with harmonies that are straight out of mid-1970s Stevie Wonder singer-songwriter period. Even stronger is ‘To make you stay’ which could have comfortably featured on any Wonder album of the period. Almost as good is the mid-tempo ‘Paradise’ once again with Wonder as instrumentalist while for uptempo soulful grooves the title track is the pick of the bunch. Not everything sounds timeless and the funk tunes ‘Ghetto penthouse’ and ‘Good to me’ are a little dated. Two bonus single versions are added and include another uptempo song ,’Leaving you is killing me’.The only pity is that Vernon Burch was unable to reproduce this sound on subsequent albums and eventually he moved to Chocolate City records whom he signed for in 1978. Two albums and a 1981 top 20 R & B single ‘Do it to me’ followed, but Burch had ambitions elsewhere and became a reverend. He re-surfaced musically in 2011 with a new project. A case of a lost talent to the world of soul music, but this album captures him at his inventive best.

Tim Stenhouse