In the late '50s, Cal Tjader and his bands played lengthy engagements at the Black Hawk jazz club in San Francisco. This CD combines almost everything from two albums he recorded there in the late '50s: the entirety of A Night at the Blackhawk, and all songs save one from Live and Direct. This is on the mellow side for Tjader, even by the vibraphonist's standards; if A Night at the Blackhawk is low-energy, Live and Direct is positively sleepy. A Night at the Blackhawk employs an all-star sextet including Willie Bobo on drums, Mongo Santamaria on congas, and Vince Guaraldi on piano. Despite the presence of Bobo and Santamaria though, it's only in the Latin-Afro-Cuban mood about half the time. That's heard on the mambo version of "Stompin' at the Savoy," "I Love Paris," and Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," the last of which is of course a natural for the Latin-jazz treatment; otherwise it's pretty inside, straight-ahead stuff. Although Live and Direct was billed to the Cal Tjader Quintet, it in fact usually features just a quartet of Tjader, Lonnie Hewitt on piano, Victor Venegas on bass, and Willie Bobo on drums. The leader doesn't even play on "My Romance," a showcase for Hewitt. Latin-Afro-Cuban-jazz fusion is barely evident on the laidback Live and Direct session, except for the high-spirited finale. Actually, the Live and Direct set is rather too much on the polite, even sleepy side: the kind of thing you'd put on to fall asleep to in the wee hours. The pace does pick up for Live and Direct's only Tjader original, "Raccoon Straits," and "Mambo Terrifico," the number that has Santamaria and Lozano on board.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger