World & Latin

The Monterey Vibe


There's something intriguing in the story of a 4-year-old Swedish-American boy who launches his show-biz career as a tap dancer raised by two vaudevillian parents, and later becomes one of the world's most revered Latin jazz vibraphonists. Unlikely origins notwithstanding, Cal Tjader made the best of his relatively short time in this world with music that was rich, dynamic and fiercely adherent to Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and other traditions. Some of his best work took place on the stage, as evidenced in The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival: 1958-1980.

The collection captures Tjader and a range of talented personnel in a performance setting that he returned to numerous times for more than two decades. The first five tracks are perhaps the most cohesive segment of the collection, as they constitute an entire concert from 1958. The lineup here includes pianist Vince Guaraldi, bassist Al McKibbon, drummer/percussionist Willie Bobo and conguero Mongo Santamaria. All are in fine form, but special guest clarinetist Buddy DeFranco stands out with beautiful interpretations of the Gershwins' "Summertime" and Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time."

Also on the guest list are trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, who raise the stakes on "Manteca," a rollicking festival jam recorded in 1972. And Poncho Sanchez provides a spicy conga undercurrent to the bossa interpretation of Kurt Weill's "Speak Low," the closing track recorded at a 1980 Monterey performance.

"Tjader's joyous music, for all its percussive fireworks, never hits you over the head," says music journalist Jesse Hamlin, who penned the liner notes to the collection, "but rather draws you into the sound, as you can hear on those vital performances that span more than two decades."

in this playlist.