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Cal Tjader: Black Hawk Nights

Derek Taylor By

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Few musicians have matched Cal Tjader’s success at blending cross-cultural elements in a jazz setting. The venerable vibraphonist has been deceased for several decades, but his music, particularly when it comes to his Latin Jazz experiments remains incredibly popular. The reasons behind the longevity are manifold and this disc which compiles another dozen selections from Tjader’s lengthy late 50’s tenure at the San Franciso’s Black Hawk club touches upon many of them. Tjader was clearly enamored of Latin music, but his many borrowings from the genre were always tempered with his own creative bent. His love of Jazz was equally deep and his work both in the studio and in concert always balanced affection for both musical styles. The Black Hawk recordings are beautifully rendered proof of Tjader’s skill at combining the two into amalgam that pleased both his musicians and his audience.

Another clear cause behind Tjader’s lasting impact was the quality of the sidemen he enlisted to carry out his musical ideas. Santamaria and Bobo were a Latin rhythm team that has yet to be matched. Their polyrhythmic interplay imbued the music with a sense of authenticity while still pushing the envelope when it came to unbridled excitement. “Chombo” Silva, Guaraldi and McKibbon were nearly as essential. Silva’s tenor tone mixed rough and tumble authority with a lyrical smoothness and his jazz chops as displayed on both Latin numbers and mainstream jazz standards were always on par with his associates. Guaraldi and McKibbon, each schooled heavily in the blues, added still further to the multifaceted nature of the group. On the first six tracks all five men bring their diverse influences together into relaxed, but grooving set. The fact that they’re enjoying the resulting music as much as the attendant crowd is evident in their audible asides of encouragement to one another. The arrangements run the gamut between Latinized standards (“Stompin’ at the Savoy”, “I Love Paris”) and velvety ballads (“Blue and Sentimental”) and though there aren’t a lot of surprises the music still wins out with a freshness of conception and execution.

The final six tunes are taken from a date a year later and change up Guaraldi and McKibbon for Hewitt and Venegas. The new quintet appears more centered on a strictly jazz-based program and some of the momentum of the earlier numbers is lost in the transition. Highlights of this later set include a luminous reading of “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and the ebulliently rendered “Mambo Terrifico,” which adds Rolando Lozano’s playful flute. There’s a lot of Tjader to choose from on record, but when compared to all that is available this pairing of sessions stands up fairly well and fans of the vibraphonist will not be disappointed by what they find here.

Tracks:Stompin’ At the Savoy/ I Hadn’t Anyone Till You/ Bill B./ Blue and Sentimental/ I Love Paris/ A Night In Tunisia/ Autumn Leaves/ My Romance/ Theme From the Bad and the Beautiful/ You Stepped Out of a Dream/ Raccoon Straights/ Mambo Terrifico.

Players:Cal Tjader- vibes; Jose “Chombo” Silva- tenor saxophone; Vince Guaraldi- piano; Al McKibbon- bass; Willie Bobo- drums; Mongo Santamaria- congas; Lonnie Hewitt- piano; Victor Venegas- bass; Rolando Lozano- flute.

Recorded: 1958 and 1959, San Francisco, CA.


Title: Black Hawk Nights | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Caligola

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