Norman Granz's inspired pairing of Anita O'Day with Cal Tjader pays big dividends on 1962's Time for 2. The singer's megawatt personality perfectly complements the vibraphonist's tweedy, polite style. If Tjader's highly pureed blend of cool bop and Latin jazz impeded O'Day, it does not show. Her saucy phrasings and subtly ironic wit gently layer over his thoughtful vibes work.
The Latin isn't overdone here; Time for 2 is only lightly seasoned with congas and mambo rhythms, perhaps Tjader's nod to his tenure with George Shearing. Some of the tracks are straight-ahead jazz, served crisp and cool thanks to O'Day's delicious voice. Creed Taylor, as usual, captures every note and nuance with that warm sound so lacking in today's recordings.
Where Tjader sometimes seems reticent about playing the part of the frontman on his own albums, here he quite comfortably recedes to the soft background light and gives O'Day plenty of room center-stage. She loves it, crooning in "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" and leading the band through a surprising mambo of "Mr. Sandman." She belts out "That's Your Red Wagon" like a great horn player and makes "An Occasional Man" sound like a misplaced composition from South Pacific. Every track presents a new color and texture, and yet the whole package feels cohesive. It's perfect cocktail hour music, great for entertaining or just relaxing on the sofa after work.
(And guys, listen up: this is the one jazz album in my collection my girlfriend loves.)
Indisputably, the great track here is "Peel Me a Grape," now a diva standard. Tjader's vibes audibly smirk behind O'Day's luscious persona of a pampered sugar baby. It's a remarkable intersection of talent, a result not easily replicated.
Although often seen as O'Day's album (and deservedly so), Tjader and his crew work some small miracles, creating an intimate big band sound with only a handful of players. These thoughtful arrangements attest to Tjader's maturity at this point in his career.
Actually, they're perhaps too tasteful. The band seems to hold back during their solos. What's more, O'Day's delightful presence suggests she wouldn't mind one bit if they unwound.
The only mystery (for me, at least) is who's playing percussion. None of the album's documentation offers a clue. My best guess is either Tjader or drummer Johnny Rae overdubbed the conga and timbale work.
Verve has reissued Time for 2 in a fold-open cardboard case with drop-out booklet. Only the original liner notes are present and no additional alternate takes are included. With the total play time clocking in just over thirty minutes, consider yourself warned (but still recommended).
Thanks for the Memory; It Shouldn't Happen to a Dream; Just in Time; Under a Blanket of Blue; That's Your Red Wagon; Peel Me a Grape; An Occasional Man; The Party's Over; I Believe in You; Mr. Sandman; Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year; I'm Not Supposed to Be Blue Blues
Anita O'Day (vocals); Cal Tjader (vibes, drums); Bob Corwin or Lonnie Hewitt (piano); Freddy Schrieber (bass); Johnny Rae (drumes, vibes)