In the '60s, R&B was a much larger market than jazz. While John Coltrane or Art Blakey could fill a small club like The Village Vanguard, James Brown and the Temptations were selling out large auditoriums -- gone were the days when jazz was very much a part of popular culture and Benny Goodman's name was all over the pop charts. Soul's popularity wasn't lost on Verve, which is why some of Cal Tjader's '60s LPs had titles like Soul Sauce and El Sonido Nuevo: The New Soul Sound -- Verve wanted the baby boomers who were buying Stax and Motown releases to notice Tjader as well. However, Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof isn't the R&B-drenched project that some might expect it to be. Tjader's vibes solos are soulful in that he plays with a lot of feeling, but he isn't trying to be Marvin Gaye. Produced by Creed Taylor in 1965, Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof is primarily an album of laid-back cool jazz that has strong Latin leanings -- Latin as in Afro-Cuban ("Tin Tin Deo"), Latin as in Brazilian ("Samba de Orfeu"). Taylor has always believed that post-swing jazz doesn't have to be devoid of commercial appeal, and he sees to it that Tjader has a groove-oriented outlook whether he is embracing the standard "How High the Moon" or giving Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings" a bossa nova makeover. The funkiest thing on the album is Tjader's version of Sonny Rollins' "Doxy," which he approaches as a boogaloo. But overall, these performances are more cool jazz than soul-jazz. Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof isn't among Tjader's essential albums, but it's an enjoyable demonstration of the vibist's ability to be a bit more commercial than usual and still maintain his bop-based integrity.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson