Cal Tjader: Catch The Groove – Live At The Penthouse 1963-1967

Two CDs collect hitherto unreleased music from the fleet-fingered vibes player who said of himself 'I’m not a pathfinder, I’m a participant'

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Vibraphonist Cal Tjader (1925-1982) is no longer a jazz household name. Yet in the 1950s and after appearing with Dave Brubeck and George Shearing, he achieved enormous popularity fronting small groups, and cannily made Cuban and Brazilian (“Latin Jazz”) his calling card.

Unlike Milt Jackson, Tjader’s appeal was to those who loved his “easy listening” style. Tjader himself modestly but truthfully once said: “I’m not a pathfinder, I’m a participant.” In fact, he was a fleet-fingered if lightweight vibes player, and recorded with such acknowledged luminaries as Stan Getz, Lalo Schifrin, and Paul Horn.

This compilation of 27 previously unreleased performances documents his appearances with various sidemen at the Penthouse club in Seattle. The most impressive of the latter are pianists Clare Fischer and Lonnie Hewitt, percussionist Armando Peraza, bassist Monk Montgomery (heard to good effect on Green Dolphin Street) and drummers Johnny Rae and Carl Burnett.

The first set opens with a nimble and fast-moving Take The ‘A’ Train, featuring cogent solos from Fisher and drummer Rae. The remaining tracks are a judicious mixture of jazz standards: On Green Dolphin Street, Love For Sale, Bags’ Groove, The Shadow Of Your Smile and I Can’t Get Started. The “Latin Groove” is unsurprisingly evident in Manha De Carnaval, Maramoor Mambo, and Mambo Inn.

Between these excursions, Tjader delivers soulful renditions of Here’s That Rainy Day and (surprisingly) Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life. Strayhorn had died only a week before this performance and Tjader’s is a respectful and sensitive tribute. It features a pensive introduction by bassist Stan Gilbert. Tjader’s own compositions – Davito, Leyte and Soul Burst – are also well worth a spin.

Attractively packaged, with appreciative comments by Greg Casseus, Eddie Palmieri, Gary Burton and Terry Gibbs (in interviews conducted by producer Zev Feldman) this is an unexpected and welcome addition to Tjader’s already hefty if now dusty discography. A minor criticism is that some of the Latinate numbers are over-long and/or repetitive. But as Gary Burton asserts: “I felt that Cal made a unique and important contribution to vibes history. He played a significant role in blending jazz and Latin music. I say unlikely because he didn’t come from a Latin background.”

Best sampled in small doses, Catch The Groove contains some uncomplicated but very listenable jazz lite. The best track? I’d vote for Ray Bryant’s Cuban Fantasy, with pianist Al Zulaica, Monk Montgomery, Carl Burnett and Peraza working up a suitable head of steam to propel and enhance Tjader’s solo.


Discography
CD1 (1) Take The ‘A’ Train; In Your Own Sweet Way; It Never Entered My Mind; Morning Of The Carnival (Manha De Carnaval); Insight; (2) Sunset Boulevard; Here’s That Rainy Day; Davito; Pantano; Leyte; Half And Half; (3) On Green Dolphin Street; Love For Sale; Reza; Maramoor Mambo (48.07)
CD2: (1) The Shadow Of Your Smile; Bags’ Groove; Morning; Mambo Inn; (2) On Green Dolphin Street; I Can’t Get Started; Soul Burst; Cuban Fantasy; (3) O Morro Nao Tem Vez; Fuji; Lush Life; Along Comes Mary (45.13)

Tjader (vib) on all tracks with:
(1) Clare Fischer (p); Fred Schreiber (b); Johnny Rae (d, tim); Bill Fitch (cga, pc). (2) Lonnie Hewitt (p); Terry Hilliard (b); Armando Peraza (cga, bgo). (3) Al Zulaica (p); Monk Montgomery (acc, b); Carl Burnett (d, timb); Peraza (cga, bgo). (4) Stan Gilbert (b). Penthouse Club, Seattle, Washington, 2 February 1963 to 8 June 1967.
Jazz Detective DDJD-O12