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Cal Tjader began his career as a stalwart member of the West Coast jazz scene, swinging his vibes through breezy versions of standards with the likes of Vince Guaraldi and Stan Getz. Along the way he delved into Latin music and after that it colored almost everything he did. His progression as an artist is explored on this compilation of performances from the Monterey Jazz Festivals, spanning the time period from 1958 to 1980.
The first five tracks feature the entire performance from 1958 featuring Cal Tjader's working group running through what would be nondescript standards except for the dynamic clarinet of Buddy DeFranco, who joins them for the first two numbers. The remainder of the program adds Mongo Santamaria on congas for a pair of Latin numbers that show the beginnings of the influence that Tjader would take to the bank for the rest of his career. Nothing revolutionary here, just straightforward cool jazz. Even the Latin numbers don't fan the flames too much.
The rest of the CD skims the cream off of the top of Tjader's other performances. For "Manteca" Tjader's group is joined by an antsy Gillespie and Clark Terry who cut everyone. "Afro Blue," a number that Tjader made his own more than John Coltrane, gets a fine rendition with electric piano that has a dated charm. Jerome Richardson contributes moody flute. The last two numbers are standards that receive the Tjader treatment with clattering percussion behind sonorous vibes and show how Tjader was able to manipulate standards to suit his interests.
All of the selections, with the exception of "Summertime," are previously unreleased performances recorded in terrific quality. Tjader is a neglected jazz artist whose artistry on the vibes was overshadowed by Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton. While not quite as swinging as those two greats, Tjader was more than able to turn in a satisfying performance.
Track Listing: Introduction; Summertime; Now's The Time; Cubano Chant; Tumbao; Manteca; Afro Blue; If You Could See Me Now; Speak Low.
Personnel: Cal Tjader: vibes; Vince Guaraldi: piano; Al McKibbon: bass; Willie Bobo: drums; Mongo Santamaria: congas; Buddy DeFranco: clarinet; Michael Wolff: electric piano; John Heard: bass; Dick Berk: drums, timbales; Michael Smithe: congas; Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry: trumpet; Armando Peraza: congas; Jerome Richardson: soprano sax; Frank Strazzeri: electric piano; Harvey Newmark: bass; John Lewis: piano; Richard Davis: bass; Roy Burns: drums; Roger Glenn: flute; Mark Levine: electric piano; Rob Fisher: bass; Vince Lateano: drums; Pancho Sanchez: congas.