From 1979 to his death in 1982, Cal Tjader recorded six albums for Concord. The record label created a new imprint, Concord Picante, for his Latin recordings. Concord has now released The Best Of The Concord Years
, which is made up of two 55 minute CDs, comprising more than a third of Tjader's output for the label. Tjader never recorded a bad album, so a collection taken from six is going to be good.
For these recordings, Tjader went to his past in two ways. First, the electric piano was put away (except for two songs here), and the flute was given a predominant position. This recalled his sixties recordings for Verve. Ten of the 21 songs of this compilation feature Roger Glenn or Gary Foster on flute. But Creed Taylor's production values are not present. Instead, second, the sound is similar to that of his late fifties Fantasy recordings with Vince Guaraldi.
This set does not present the songs in chronological order. The first Concord album, La Onda Va Bien, received the Grammy Award for the new Latin category. It is represented here by five songs, the best of which is "Speak Low." Carmen McRae recorded an album with the band called Heat Wave, and her album is represented by three songs: the Santana hit "Evil Ways," "Besame Mucho" and Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing." McRae is in fine form, but to these ears Heat Wave is the least valuable of the sessions making up the Concord canon.
One album, The Shining Sea, eschews the Latin beat and takes the songs in a mainstream manner. Two Johnny Mandel songs, "Quietly There" and "Don't Look Back," are taken from that album. A Fuego Vivo was recorded live in concert, and it appears from its four selections to be the best of the six albums. Gary Foster is featured on soprano saxophone, a different sound for Tjader.
It wouldn't be a Cal Tjader compilation without "Soul Sauce," and this rendition is taken from a live recording featuring Foster's soprano and Poncho Sanchez on congas. "Speak Low" and Mandel's "Close Enough For Love" feature Mark Levine on the Fender Rhodes electric piano, recalling Tjader's seventies band.
The Best Of The Concord Years is a worthwhile collection of sufficient variety within the Tjader formula, which does not disappoint.
Personnel: Cal Tjader (vibes),
Mark Levine (piano),
Roger Glenn (flute and percussion),
Gary Foster (flute and soprano sax),
Vince Lateano (drums),
Rob Fisher (bass),
Poncho Sanchez (percussion),
Ramon Banda (percussion),
Carmen McRae (vocals),