Cal Tjader – The Best of Cal Tjader, Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980 Monterey Jazz Festival Records MJFR 30701, 69:25 ****1/2 [Distr. by Concord Records]:
(Cal Tjader, vibraphone, percussion; with special guests over this 22 year period including Vince Guaraldi, Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, Buddy DeFranco, John Lewis, and Jerome Richardson)
The gifted Bay Area based vibraphonist graced the stage of the Monterey Jazz Festival five times from the inaugural 1958 Festival until 1980. This CD includes the entire 1958 concert as well as individual tracks from performances in 1972, ’74, ’77 and 1980. Band members were varied and included the stars of Latin music – Bobo, Santamaria, Peraza, and Poncho Sanchez as well as straight jazz musicians, Richardson, Lewis, and DeFranco. With all these musicians, Tjader shined, turning audiences on to a blend of Latin, bebop, Afro-Cuban.
Only Summertime has been released before so we have a real treat with all new material. DeFranco drives the opening Gershwin classic tune and bop choruses mix with Guaraldi and Tjader’s tight teamwork. It’s easy to see why this 15-minute track was released commercially. Bird’s Nows the Time gets the Tjader treatment next and again DeFranco brings to mind Benny Goodman.
In 1972 when the Giants of Jazz graced the stage (see the Art Blakey review above) in Monterey, they were available for Tjader’s set and Gillespie, Terry, and McKibbon round out the band for the classic Manteca. Michael Wolff’s electric piano adds a new dimension to this track and Diz is in his usual effusive mood as well. 1974 brought a group with Santamaria on congas and the great bop drummer, Dick Berk on both drums and timbales and they do a swirling modal version of Afro Blue-a true testament to Tjader’s versatility and willingness to try out new arrangements.
The beautiful ballad If You Could See Me Now, with John Lewis backing Tjader, is quite lovely. The sound mix on this track is warm and crystal clear, one of the best-sounding tracks on any of the MJF issues [which are not always top fidelity…Ed.]. Our visit with Cal ends in 1980 with a Roger Glenn’s flute, more electric piano, and Poncho Sanchez, on congas giving a unique feeling to the venerable Speak Low. Just two years later in Manila, Cal Tjader passed away at the young age of 56, a true loss to the jazz/salsa/Latin music communities. This is a real find and a true opportunity to experience the vibe superstar, Cal Tjader. Highly recommended!
TrackList: Introduction, Summertime, Now’s the Time, Cubano Chant, Tumbao, Manteca, Afro Blue, If You could See Me Now, Speak Low
– Jeff Krow