Cal Tjader became one of the foremost performers in the world of Latin jazz, even though he was a Swedish-American by birth. After serving with honor in the military during World War II, he was a member of Dave Brubeck's experimental octet and drummer in the pianist's trio before going out on his own as a leader. This compilation of Monterey Jazz Festival performances includes the vibraphonist's complete set from 1958 (the inaugural year) with pianist Vince Guaraldi, bassist Al McKibbon, and percussionist Willie Bobo. Guest clarinetist Buddy DeFranco joins the quartet for a bluesy, extended workout of "Summertime" and lively long rendition of "Now's the Time." Conga great Mongo Santamaria appears on the rest of the 1958 set, including Ray Bryant's infectious "Cubano Chant" and Tjader's intricate, rhythmic, Afro-Cuban descarga "Tumbao." Moving ahead to 1972, Tjader is joined by bassist John Heard, drummer Dick Berk, conga player Michael Smith, and teenaged electric pianist Michael Wolff (a recent addition to the group). The highlight of the long jam on this Afro-Cuban favorite are the solos by Tjader and the two guest trumpeters, composer Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, with McKibbon and conga player Armando Peraza as additional guests. Unfortunately, Wolff's keyboard solo sounds very muddy due to over-modulation. For the 1974 set, soprano saxophonist Jerome Richardson, electric pianist Frank Strazzeri, bassist Harvey Newmark, and Berk are on hand, though Santamaria returns to guest on congas in an exciting workout of his huge hit "Afro Blue." The Latin sound is omitted from the 1977 quartet interpretation of the bop ballad "If You Could See Me Now," a lyrical quartet setting featuring pianist John Lewis, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Roy Burns providing subdued background for Tjader's tasty solo. The one number from 1980 is a soft bossa nova arrangement of the standard "Speak Low," showcasing Roger Glenn and electric pianist Mark Levine in a gently swaying setting. This anthology drawn from Cal Tjader's memorable sets at Monterey should be considered essential for fans of Latin Jazz.
The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980 Review
by Ken Dryden