Happy Cal Tjader Day! Naturally, for Cal’s birthday I had to come out of hibernation and do something for the great Californian jazz musician. Lately, I’ve been spinning a Tjader record that I grabbed during my last trip to California, fittingly enough. It’s got groovy music and cover art to match. Here comes Cal, and here comes the music!
The Tune: “Samba Do Sueno”
Recorded: 28 & 29 March, 1967 at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
- Cal Tjader – Vibes
- Al Zulaica – Piano
- Stan Gilbert – Bass
- Armando Peraza – Congas
- Carl Burnett – Drums
This track is a perfect example of why Cal Tjader was such a tasty musician and why he was one of the greatest musicians of his time. The groove is established quickly with the percussion laying down the beat. The bass and piano come in with their own riffs and patterns and pretty soon there’s a head-bobbingly hypnotic effect taking place. Tjader’s vibes provide mere shading at first, then sneak in to play the melody before quickly receding to the background in an unorthodox case of the leader letting his sideman get the first solo. Pianist Al Zulaica gets a wonderfully modern and fresh solo off before handing it back to Tjader. Tjader’s solo is simplistic yet impactful, showing just how modern an economical approach could be. He doesn’t play with fire and passion, but instead rides the groove and lets it carry him in a cool fashion. One gets the feeling that Cal Tjader never sweated when he played, the complete antithesis of Lionel Hampton. Yes, this track is Tjader perfection. Simplistic, economical, and cool. That’s Cal Tjader.
“Samba Do Sueno” is the last track on the album, and just might be the best. The rest of the album is filled with equally groovy tunes of varying moods and styles, all firmly in the Latin bag. The album opener is a delightfully cheesy Latin thing with lyrics sung in Spanish. Tjader and company take Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” and turn it into a half-serious half-kidding Latin ballad, complete with Spanish lyrics. One of the reasons why I bought the album was for Tjader’s cover of “Our Day Will Come”. Done as an Afro-Cuba meets Brazil (somewhat redundant) bossa nova, it’s brief, but it swings heavily. Chick Corea is on the piano on this track, and his tasty comping and chordal backdrop are divine. Again, Tjader is fleet but firmly in the pocket, leaving you wanting more. There’s a single live track on the album, the rest being studio recordings. The lone live track comes from an appearance at a night club in San Francisco, one of the few still offering jazz in 1967.
To sum up the entire album, I’d say it’s a groovy (how many times have I used that adjective so far?), cool, yet surprisingly refreshing collection of music that amply shows Tjader doing what he was great at- creating a groove, then deftly riding that groove to even greater heights.
This album doesn’t seem to have ever been reissued on CD, making it somewhat rare and obscure. There isn’t much information about it online, which is a shame. It may not be the greatest album ever, but it’s an enjoyable album with some good music on it, and that’s all we really ask for. Happy birthday Cal Tjader!
Raggy Waltz Rating: A+++
It’s so spectacularly of its time, you really can’t not love it. The artwork is psychedelic 1960’s in all of its hippie glory, complete with the colors and shapes and font choice. The juxtaposition of the colors and designs with the the portrait of Tjader in the middle almost makes for an unintentionally hip piece of pop culture fashion. I’d totally wear this on a t-shirt.
By the latter half of the 1960’s, Verve was regularly putting its albums out as gatefolds. This album is an uncommon example of a regular album. The great Gene Lees contributed the liner notes, which do the job. Lees, a veteran jazz critic and liner note writer, helps us out by including the personnel listing since Creed Taylor left it off the album jacket. Lees also included a quote from Tjader’s arranger Chico O’Farrill that perfectly describes Tjader’s style: “He’s a marvelous musician, not in any way flashy. Taste is his big quality. Like Count Basie, he gets his message across without pyrotechnics…” Yep.
Unlike Tjader’s previous record label, Fantasy, Verve pressed its albums on standard black vinyl. Interestingly for 1967, this album has a deep groove on both sides of the record. Also present in the deadwax of the record is Rudy Van Gelder’s stamp of quality. Of course, listening to the record would quickly reveal that RVG was the engineer for the date. Besides having that unmistakable spaciousness that his Englewood Cliffs studio had, the piano has that distinctive fuzzy-yet-delicious quality to it that was uniquely RVG’s.
The vinyl plays relatively well and quietly, with the occasional snap, crackle and sizzle that makes vinyl great. There is some groove wear, especially on the songs in the inner grooves of the record. I’ve noticed that Verve records seem to be particularly plagued with groove wear. Knowing what I know about how RVG operated his records (mostly gleaned from Rich Capeless a la his fantastic website), the fact that he engineered and mastered them “hot” somehow resulted in albums that he engineered being more prone to wear. Blue Note albums for instance are especially susceptible to groove wear. By 1967, Van Gelder and engineers everywhere were finally getting the hang of stereo recording technique. Tjader is firmly in the middle, as is the piano and bass, with the drums and percussion on the right and left. The piano and even Tjader’s vibes seem to get buried in the mix, although I only notice this when I put on headphones…
The Place of Acquisition
I’m truly ashamed at both how many records I grabbed, the money I spent, and my timing the two times I went home to Southern California earlier this year. I went to the record store, grabbed what I could, then rushed home to jump into a suit and tear down the road to the wedding. Good times. When I was there in March, I stopped in at the local record store in Redlands and started digging. One of the first records I found was this Cal Tjader album. The cover art stopped me dead in my tracks before I even realized it was a Tjader album. Since it was an album that I wasn’t familiar with, I Googled it on my phone. Nothing. The presence of Chick Corea on piano, the inclusion of “Our Day Will Come”, and the $10 price tag made it easy to chance it. I’m glad I did. The guy at the cash register even remembered me from when I had first arrived in February, so he gave me the record (and a few others) to me for free!