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Serving tenure at Fantasy that stretched the span of nearly three decades Cal Tjader was a staple artist for the label. A thread that traces through almost his entire output as a leader is an abiding affection for Latin rhythms and song structures, but the drummer turned vibraphonist was also amenable to a wide range of influences and directions. The duration of his stay was marked by many of the same stylistic shifts undertaken by other jazz artists over interim. Both the breadth and solidarity of Tjader’s music is brought into bold focus by this recent two-fer, which creatively combines his first session for Fantasy with his final entry for the catalog. While the former is firmly grounded in the fleet bop interplay that was the fashion of the early Fifties, the latter date is very much in line with the fusionary impulses of the mid-Seventies. The stylistic differences between the two are striking, but Tjader’s floating touch with his mallets remains a constant in either setting.
The two early trios ply their trade on the first eight tracks, with Tjader moving to bongos and drums for a tune apiece. Melding a ferocious Latin beat to the familiar chopsticks progression on the opening cut Tjader’s fast break skins serve up blistering rhythmic support to Guaraldi’s florid keyboard runs. “Vibra-Tharpe” follows a choppy scalar trail anchored by Weeks’ cantering bass throb. The dreamy reading of “Lullaby of the Leaves” trades speed for luxurious restraint and the leader makes fitting use of his sustain pedals in loosing a smoky melodic haze. John Marabuto takes the piano stool for the next four tunes and adopts a less percussive style than his predecessor, but Tjader and Weeks succeed in maintaining rhythmic momentum through tight interplay.
Tjader’s swan song for Fantasy Breathe Easy is an instructive product of its age, from the gauze-gilded cover photo of a seductive female face to the telltale presence of electric piano. Jones’ bop-seasoned chops refuse to succumb to the instrument’s syrupy tendencies and instead capitalize on the array of harmonic textures available through amplification. The lesser-known Smith plays tastefully as the lone horn, affixing mute to bell on several occasions to further add to the early morning hours feel of the date. Manne proves an astute choice for the drum chair and his subtle and often supple patterns widen the ensemble scope of the group without dominating it. Having the two sessions situated in such a way allows for fascinating juxtaposition and suggests that though Tjader was apt to follow musical trends like most everyone else, his underlying approach and sound on his instrument stayed basically the same. This disc delivers the beginning and end, but will also hopefully encourage listeners to investigate the variegated paths that comprise the prolific middle of Tjader’s musical partnership with Fantasy.
Fantasy on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Track Listing: Chopsticks Mambo/ Vibra-Tharpe/ Three Little Words/ Lullaby of the Leaves/ Ivy/ Give Me the Simple Life/ These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)/ Charley
Personnel: Cal Tjader- vibes, bongos, drums; Vince Guaraldi- piano; Jack Weeks- bass; John Marabuto- piano; Allen Smith- trumpet; Hank Jones- electric & acoustic piano; Monty Budwig- bass; Shelly Manne- drums. Recorded: August, September & November 1951 and September 1977, San Francisco.