George Shearing's bands with percussionists Willie Bobo, Armando Peraza, and Mongo Santamaria also featured Cal Tjader. After his time with Shearing, Tjader employed his drums, timbales, percussion and vibes as a longstanding pillar of the San Francisco jazz scene. Bobo and Santamaria would later realign with Tjader in some of these bands. So did Vince Guaraldi, another of Tjader's Shearing compatriots, whose dancing, crystalline piano style served the Latin idiom well, especially in the context of Tjader’s chiming vibes and shimmering rhythms.
In 1977, Tjader recorded this performance at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. Though Cuban Fantasy (Fantasy) moves forward in jazz two decades from Feldman’s time of Broadway, ballads, blues and bop to electric jazz and fusion, like Latinsville! it remains consistent with the instrumentation and devices of its time. Trumpet, trombone and saxophone are gone as solo instruments, replaced by Bob Redfield’s electric guitar and keyboards from Clare Fischer. Bassist Rob Fisher, drummer Pete Riso, and conguero/percussionist Poncho Sanchez complete this ensemble.
Cuban Fantasy bursts open with the electric adventurous spirit of jazz fusion: Instead of a dozen songs generally between three to five minutes in length, the time standard during the era of Feldman’s set, it presents eight tracks between six and thirteen minutes long (“in concert” helps this feeling along, too). “Guarabe” exudes this spirit, cycling upon an electric piano riff, underscored by the hop, skip n’ jumping drum pattern, that serves as launching pad for spacey explorations by the guitarist and pianist. It is so loose that it doesn’t really seem to have an ending, the band sort of just stops playing it. “Manuel Deeghit” also jams on a riff hung upon its rhythmic backbone supple yet strong as a python. Tjader digs deeps into his Milt “Bags” Jackson bag, fluid and bluesy here.
Tjader’s way with melody is simply a gift, a gift on display as he dances through the opening “Cuban Fantasy.” It is quickly apparent why this descarga (jam session) was chosen as the first and title track to this set, as Tjader pirouettes through its melody and Sanchez pounds out an amazing flurry of warm notes played almost too fast to be distinguished individually—a wall of conga sound. Sanchez also surpasses description in “Tamanco no Samba (Samba Blim),” where keyboardist Fischer sits out most of the solos in the middle section so they feel tuned to the percussion and drum beats, quite free and hot.
“Descarga Cachao” and the crowd-pleasing finale “Guachi Guara (Soul Sauce)”—a Dizzy Gillespie composition but Tjader’s signature piece—deliver the spiritually charged and spicy sustenance their titles promise. Tjader scales magnificent summits of vibes and timbales in each, especially inspiring the other soloists in “Cacao,” and Sanchez proves worthy of the great percussionists’ mantle of Bobo and Santamaria passed to him through Tjader.
Personnel: Cal Tjader (vibes, timbales, percussion); Clare Fischer (electric piano); Bob Redfield (electric guitar); Rob Fisher (bass); Pete Riso (drums); Poncho Sanchez (congas, percussion).