Mambo With Tjader // Cal Tjader (Fantasy 3-202)

To say these are uncertain times would be an understatement. Every day there seems to be more bad news, more news of orders and decrees going into action that further disrupt our daily life. In times like these, my records mean more to me than almost anything else. They’re a sonic refuge, a place to go when I need a respite from the world. I don’t know how long this virus and the new way of life it’s created will be around, but while it’s here, I’ll be spinning albums that take me back to simpler, happier times. First up is an upbeat record that I’ve been looking for since I was in middle school. With that (admittedly heavy) intro, to the music!


The Music

The Tune: “I’ll Remember April”

The Tune: “Dearly Beloved”

Recorded: 21 September, 1954 in San Francisco, CA

Personnel:

  • Cal Tjader- Vibes
  • Manuel Duran – Piano
  • Carlos Duran – Bass
  • Edgar Rosales- Congas
  • Bayardo “Benny” Velarde- Timbales, bongos, congas, cowbell

Cal Tjader gets absolutely no love from modern jazz anthropologists and writers these days. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because these writers and anthropologists don’t think of Tjader as a jazz musician, or at least a ‘serious’ jazz musician. It’s truly a shame, because the man made some phenomenal and personal music during his long career. This album is a great example of that. Fresh out of George Shearing’s band, Tjader organized a band to further explore his curiosity with Latin and Afro-Cuban music.

In this, his first 12-inch LP of all-new material, Tjader plays his jazz with a Latin accent, showcasing his arrangements of jazz standards recast as boleros, cha-cha-chas, and mambos. And they work! Listening to his version of jazz stalwarts like “I’ll Remember April” or “Dearly Beloved”, it’s quickly evident that Tjader was equally proficient in jazz and Afro-Cuban music and could successfully navigate the waters of both genres simultaneously. “I’ll Remember April” is done as a dreamy, lazy bolero that places emphasis on the melody and the chord changes around it (with nice substitutions by Tjader and company in the process). “Dearly Beloved”, in contrast, is taken at a lively bounce as a cha-cha-cha. The intro alone is fresh, tastefully balancing space and sound while sailing on the rhythm- all classic Tjader devices.

The rest of the album features much of the same fresh revamping of tunes, with most arrangements giving pianist Manual Duran a chance to shine on piano. Even when he doesn’t solo, Duran’s piano work sparkles throughout the album, whether it’s shading or rhythmic sparks he’s lending to the proceedings. His brother Carlos keeps things musically grounded on the bass, while the two percussionists add color, texture and authenticity to the music. Tjader and his group were on it.

As I mentioned in the intro, this album has a special place in my heart and mind. Listening to the local jazz radio station one morning before school, the radio DJ played “I’ll Remember April” from this album. Of course, I didn’t know that. To me, it was just a Latin jazz tune that sounded unique and unlike any other jazz I had heard at the time. So captivated was I that I waited until the DJ (Megan Marlena!) announced who it was. I wrote down the name of the tune and the artist, misspelling Tjader’s last name in process. I’m sure I had heard Tjader’s music before, but this is the first time I remember it making an impression enough for me to write it down and remember it. KJAZZ morning DJ Megan Marlena must have liked Tjader, because she played him a lot after that (or maybe I just noticed now that I was a new Tjader fan). It wasn’t until years later in high school that I revisited Cal Tjader’s music and realized that the Latin jazz guy and the straight ahead jazz guy were the same, and after buying the album on iTunes, I finally own it on the original vinyl. So now, whenever I pull this record out and spin it, I’m transported back to 2005, when life was easy, the homework plentiful, and hanging out with friends still legal.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: A

Taking a page out of Blue Note’s book, Fantasy opted for a hip shot of a stylishly-dressed Cal Tjader taken from a visually interesting angle, and then threw a cool-toned blue filter over it. The resulting artwork ranks as one of Fantasy’s finest album covers in its discography. Even the font and placing of the type on the album is perfect. Good job Fantasy. Unfortunately, my copy has a cover that’s seen better days. Built out of thick cardboard, it’s taken a lot abuse like a champ, but that ringwear… I mean, I still love it, but man.

The Back

A rare Fantasy album with plentiful pictures?! Well, to offset that cool inclusion, they don’t include the track titles, so you have no idea what’s next. The liner notes, written by a most-definitely fictional person, are amusing if not somewhat interesting.

The Vinyl

Made early in Fantasy’s transition to 12-inch records (this was the second 12-inch LP Fantasy released), this record was pressed on conventional black vinyl instead of the usual translucent red. The deep groove is present, and the labels are classic. This record was well-loved by its previous owner, with plenty of pops, crackles, and worn grooves to prove it. In spite of that, I still love to listen to this record. I have it on iTunes, and the difference in audio quality is unbelievable. The digital files sound somewhat compressed while the original vinyl sparkles with full-bodied life.

The Place of Acquisition

Whenever I go home to Southern California, I always hit up my hometown record shop. While there this past December, I made my pilgrimage to Redlands Vinyl and had yet another highly successful dig. It’s almost a requirement that I pick up albums by West Coast artists when I’m on the West Coast, so finding this Cal Tjader album was a major coup. It was in rough shape, as you can see, and it didn’t have an inner sleeve. Still, it was an original, and for $5, I grabbed it REAL quick. It’s kinda poetic that after hearing it on the radio a decade-plus ago, I found the original record in the same city. Now that I own it, I’ll be adding to its groove wear by playing it nonstop while I’m cooped up inside!

2 thoughts on “Mambo With Tjader // Cal Tjader (Fantasy 3-202)

  1. A great post. I will look for this album to try to better endure the confinement.
    Greetings and encouragement from Spain.

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