REVIEW: The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980

Concord Music Group has carved out a prominent role for itself in today’s music world as one of the most diversified sources for recordings of all genres, with an especially strong presence in jazz. One of the many special collections they’ve made available is a series of releases based on historical performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and among the best of those is an outstanding album from Latin jazz specialist Cal Tjader.

Tjader was a fine vibraphonist and percussionist, and a force in Latin music for many years. He helped influence others – including Carlos Santana – but what many of today’s jazz fans might not know is that Tjader was not Latino himself. He grew up in the San Francisco area and in the early days was involved with the fledgling Dave Brubeck group, later moving on to play with Alvino Rey (who was also a faux Latino) and George Shearing. He found himself drawn to Latin music and eventually became one of the genre’s leading stars, while his ties to modern jazz helped bridge the gap between the two.

By the time he made his first appearance at the 1958 Monterey concert, he’d put together an outstanding group that included percussionists Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria, and the first five tracks on the album are from that appearance. They include a vibrant performance of “Summertime,” with Tjader taking the lead on vibes and guest Buddy DeFranco turning in a nice segment on clarinet, and “Cubano Chant,” which rachets up the percussion even higher. Also in this grouping is “Now’s The Time,” a piece written by Charlie Parker and nicely done, and its inclusion shows how Tjader was keeping his ties to bebop.

The remaining four tracks are taken from Tjader’s Monterey appearances in later years, mostly the seventies. All are well worth the listen, but my favorites were probably Mongo’s “Afro Blue,” a classic piece made famous by Coltrane but here a showcase for the composer himself, and “Speak Low,” a tune that I’ve always liked and one that is given new life here by some inventive improvisations from Roger Glenn’s haunting flute.

An outstanding album of classic Latin jazz with a touch of bebop — highly recommended.

Album


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