Cal Tjader

Cool Fire

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This two-CD compilation brings together two outstanding recordings from late in Cal Tjader's career. The first disc, released as A Fuego Vivo, comes from a 1981 concert at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. One thing apparent right away is that Tjader is generous in featuring and acknowledging the contributions of his sidemen, in addition to adding a few hot solos of his own. "Poncho Con Dos Amigos" is an exciting extended feature for conga great Poncho Sanchez, whose own career as a leader took off not long after Tjader's passing. The leader's exotic "Mindinao," and multi-reed player Gary Foster's lovely ballad "Tesoro," are also memorable. Less successful is the watered down arrangement of John Coltrane's "Naima," which strips away too much of the melody, though his campy treatment of the often humdrum "The Continental" more than makes up for it.

The second disc, originally released as Good Vibes two years after "Tjader"'s death, kicks off with a crowd-pleasing take of Dizzy Gillespie's "Guachi Guaro (Soul Sauce)," showcasing bassist Rob Fisher, drummer Vince Lateano, and Foster (on soprano sax). Tjader introduces his band with enthusiasm as they launch into Sonny Rollins' "Doxy." Pianist Mark Levine, who is present on both dates, composed the smoking salsa "Shoshana," a piece that would get any crowd on its feet and dancing. "Cuban Fantasy" is a percussive cousin to Ray Bryant's better-known "Cubano Chant," though the only similarity is their shared opening theme. Tjader sends his audience off happy with "Good Vibes," a mid-tempo bop-flavored Latin blues tune. This budget-priced double-CD is well worth acquiring, and a great initial purchase if one is not already familiar with Tjader's considerable discography.

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