Cal Tjader

Cal TjaderOur Blues
Cal Tjader
(Fantasy – 1957/60-2002)
by John Barrett

Because of his major accomplishments in Latin jazz, many forget that Cal Tjader played other types of music. He was the first drummer hired by Dave Brubeck, and learned balladry from George Shearing – Cal’s love of standards was indulged in his live performances. This compilation begins with a 1960 date at Sacramento City College; the band includes pianist Lonnie Hewitt, Eddie Coleman on bass, and the great Willie Bobo, here confined to conventional drums.

They all sail fast on “S.S. Groove”, with Tjader glowing on big sustain. He keeps falling downward; Hewitt’s comp is gentle and the cymbals persistent. “Goodbye” is taken at a crawl, a sound as staid – and lovely – as the Modern Jazz Quartet. Cal’s bell-like notes are answered by Hewitt’s grand chords; the cymbalwork is impressive, along with the applause.

“Moment in Madrid” would fit on Side Two of Cal’s Soul Sauce album; it’s got a restless tempo and a balladic heart. Tjader’s solo is luscious, with a lengthy quote of “Dearly Beloved” … and “Dixie”! Lonnie turns glamorous on his turn, with block chords and a quote of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”. (A melodist in his own right, Hewitt would later write the wonderful “Leyte”.) “Theme for Duke” winks in its sophistication (Cal sounds like Milt Jackson) and “Cuban Fantasy” is a blast, with montunos by Hewitt, a guest spot by Mongo Santamaria, and frequent quotes of “Cubano Chant”. The lone Latin tune in the bunch, this makes the album … and it makes my day.

The second album was a studio date from 1957; titled Cal Tjader, the disc features Vince Guaraldi, Eugene “The Senator” Wright on bass, and the drummer Al Torres. Their “Porgy and Bess Suite” starts with a happy theme close to “Bags’ Groove”; this slowly turns into “Summertime”! Guaraldi plays perky in the background, the bass comes creeping … and “Bess, You Is My Woman” sneaks in like a ray of sunshine! Cal’s notes are long and his vibrato is wide – this beauty is part Gershwin’s and all Tjader’s.

“When Lights Are Low” bends the theme significantly; Cal runs with the chords in a happy, relaxed solo. “Our Blues” is a fast bit of delirious improvisation (Wright’s walk is really nice) while “And Baby Makes Three” ambles softly on a chorded walkway. For a dignified ending they do Mulligan’s “Line for Lyons”, with Eugene wielding a bow, Guaraldi sleek ‘n’ soft, and Cal using all of his considerable charm. While maybe too soft for some listeners, this set offers up fine chamber jazz … and it will cool you off from all that Latin heat.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Skanner.