Monday, April 29, 2013

Cal Tjader Trio: The Cal Tjader Trio

Well, I guess it's no secret that I'm a bit obsessed with vinyl. This year on Record Store Day, I visited my local vinyl seller, Spin Records in Carlsbad, CA., to see all the cool goodies that the companies release on that day. There was a lot of neat stuff, but the one thing I had to have was this neat reissue of one of jazz' classic 10" Fifties offerings, the debut album from the Cal Tjader Trio, reproduced exactingly, down to the vintage Fantasy Records label and the colored vinyl (although the originals were released on red, not orange, wax).

The neat thing about this record, aside from the fact that it makes a very rare collectible available again, is that Tjader was one of the leaders of the Latin Jazz movement that culminated with Carlos Santana's work that began in the late '60s. Interestingly enough, Tjader himself was not of Spanish descent, but grew up in the Bay Area, where he soaked in all the local rhythms transplanted from down south (the same way the salsa scene in NYC appropriated rhythms and chords from the Puerto Rican and Cuban emigrees of the '40s and '50s).

Tjader was a multi-instrumentalist who played primarily xylophone and vibraphone, but also piano and bongos (dig that hip coffee-house cover!). He cut his chops with George Shearing and Brubeck, but soon graduated to leading his own band; after leaving Shearing's group he returned home to San Francisco, formed a trio and began cutting records for Berkeley's Fantasy Records, a hotbed of West Coast Jazz throughout the '50s (and later, the launching point for West Coast rockers from CCR to Tommy James, and the final resting place of the Stax catalogue).

This album was cut in '51 but issued in '53 as Tjader's first album under his own name. It's an absolute classic recording, squeezing 8 cuts onto 10 inches, and every one a winner. Where some '50s jazz feels dated, or derivative, Tjader's work still sounds fresh, cool and happening.

Tjader later went on to record for Verve, the Jazz label of the '60s, and was also a founder of the legendary Skye Recordings label, which, though short-lived, contributed enormously to the advance of jazz and jazz-fusion in the late '60s with artists such as Grady Tate. He died in 1982.

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