Sunday, October 12, 2008

CD of the Day - "Cal Tjader Live at Monterey"

CD of the Day
"The Best of Cal Tjader - Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival" (MJF CD 30701)
Original concerts produced by Jimmy Lyons
Produced for release by Jason Olaine & Nick Phillips
Distributed by Concord Music Group

The late Cal Tjader, while not of Latin extraction, was one of the most popular exponents of Latin jazz ever. Both on stage and in the studio, from the late 1950s to his 1982 death, Tjader's vibraphone dazzled and danced in the gray area where jazz (both hot and cool) and Latin, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian sounds overlapped. This CD collects material from live performances at the illustrious Monterey Jazz Festival between 1958 and 1980.

Actually, we have the complete 1958 concert with two long (and boring) versions of Gershwin's "Summertime" and Parker's "Now's the Time", despite the good solos of special guest clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. I don't see Tjader (backed by Vince Guaraldi, Al McKibbon and Willie Bobo) adding nothing personal nor special to them. So, the party really begins on Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant", followed by Tjader's own "Tumbao", with Mongo Santamaria on congas.

Then comes a track from 1972 (Dizzy's "Manteca", with guests Gillespie, Clark Terry & Armando Peraza, also featuring Michael Wolff's furious Fender Rhodes distorted sound), and a rendition of Mongo's "Afro Blue" from 1974, with Jerome Richardson on soprano sax. A short take on Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now", from 1977, displays Cal's ballad artistry in an acoustic set provided by John Lewis, Richard Davis and Roy Burns.

The last track is the album highlight: a delightful latin-tinged arrangement of Kurt Weill's "Speak Low", live at the 1980 concert. The line-up includes Mark Levine's groovy Rhodes, bassist Rob Fisher, drummer Vince Lateano, conguero Poncho Sanchez and flutist Roger Glenn.
Wish they had selected the complete 1980 concert as the CD "centerpiece", instead of the 1958 performance.
Liner notes by San Francisco Chronicle's columnist Jesse Hamlin.

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