Cal Tjader

Extremes: Cal Tjader Trio/Breathe Easy

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Fantasy's frequent policy of combining two LPs onto one CD reissue is usually laudable and effective, giving listeners about twice as much for their money as they'd get on most reissues. This is one instance, however, in which the two LPs selected for the same disc don't necessarily go that well together. What this does is match Tjader's first Fantasy LP, the rare 10" LP The Cal Tjader Trio (recorded in 1951), with the last album he did for the label, Breathe Easy. Though it's brief (none of the eight songs exceed three and a half minutes), The Cal Tjader Trio is a fine and important body of work, representing the time in which Tjader's pioneering Latin-jazz-mambo fusion was falling into place. Although the recording is slightly lower in fidelity than that found on most of Tjader's subsequent releases, there's a fresh exuberance to these recordings that renders that loss irrelevant. According to the liner notes, the four tracks with Vince Guaraldi represent his first work in the studio, and he plays like a demon on "Three Little Words." In addition to playing vibes, Tjader adds drums and bongos himself here and there, and makes infectious rhythms on "Chopsticks Mambo" and "Ivy," as well as putting his vibes to more tender melodic use on the ballad "Lullaby of the Leaves" and Jack Weeks' sprightly "Charley's Quote." Which makes the Breathe Easy portion of the CD a letdown, consisting as it does of competent but sleepy versions of standards by the likes of Jerome Kern ("The Way You Look Tonight") and Gordon Jenkins. Drummer Shelly Manne's the most notable sideman, and Hank Jones' keyboards (often electric) dull rather than enhance the impact. This is still an important release for the inclusion of The Cal Tjader Trio (which would be very hard to find in its original format), but would have been better if an album from the same era had served as its companion piece instead.

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