Following Poncho Sanchez's 1995 tribute, Soul Sauce
(Concord Picante), this is the second Latin jazz tribute to the undersung vibraphonist Cal Tjader (1925-82). Tjader began playing drums for George Shearing in the 40s then later for Dave Brubeck. He switched to vibes and began exploring his love of Latin music on a series of successful records for Fantasy. In the early 60s, Verve recorded him with orchestras in rather unusual contexts (bossa nova, eastern jazz and finally pop rock). He recorded pop jazz for his own record company and, by the mid 70s, returned to the Latin jazz he loved so much. His popularity, of course, brought critical disdain and neglect.
But Tjader's substantial influence remains alive in recordings like this. It's no wonder Dave Samuels – currently of the Caribbean Jazz Project and formerly of hitmakers Spyro Gyra and the little known Double Image – would cast himself in a Tjader tribute. Like Tjader, Samuels is an imaginative soloist with a distinctive, appealing sound. He is a restrained player who never rushes a good idea and never loses his listener in a flurry of wasted notes.
Samuels has invited some notable heavies to participate in Tjader-ized too: young lion David Sanchez, flautist Dave Valentine, pianists Eddie Palmieri (a former Tjader partner) and Michael Wolf and guitarist Steve Kahn. The menu includes a few obvious choices ("Soul Sauce," "Triste), some nice surprises ("Tres Palabras" and Clare Fischer's "Bachi," both originally from Tjader's 1978 disc Huracan and Eddie Palmieri's excellent "Resemblance"), and several new pieces, including former Tjader pianist Chick Corea's "Hand Me Down."
But perhaps due to its exclusive reliance on Latin or Latin-ized themes, Tjader-ized is rather uneventful too. Something nags at this listener that a Tjader tribute on Verve should reflect more of the musical diversity Tjader exhibited during his seven years at the label. Latin themes were actually a small part of the work he crafted at Verve between 1961 and 1968. And it seems that Samuels, who is interesting and worthwhile throughout these near-dozen tunes, would be the ideal artist to provide such diversity. Knowing nothing about the politics or business that went into staging this tribute, it's also surprising that a Tjader tribute on Verve does not include the participation of keyboardist Lonnie Hewitt and, especially, Armando Perazza. That is not to say what remains isn't solid contemporary Latin jazz of the first order. It is. And if Tjader-ized inspires others to explore Cal Tjader's music, then it is also a success.
Tracks:Tjader-ized; Bachi; Soul Sauce; Delta Sierra; Viva Cepeda; Triste; Tres Palabras; Resmblance; Yeah; Hand Me Down; Duo Plus Four.Collective