Jazz Detective

Cal Tjader (vil), Clare Fischer (p), Fred Schreiber (b), Johnny Rae (dr, timb), Bill Fitch (cga, perc): Recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, WA on February 2, 1963

Cal Tjader (vib), Lonnie Hewitt (p), Terry Hilliard (b), Johnny Rae (dr, timb), Armando Peraza (cga, bgo): Recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, WA on May 6, 1965

Cal Tjader (vib), Lonnie Hewitt (p), Terry Hilliard (b), Johnny Rae (dr, timb), Armando Peraza (cga, bgo): Recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, WA on May 13, 1965

Cal Tiader (vib), Al Zulaica (p), Monk Montgomery (b), Carl Burnett (dr, timb), Armando Peraza (cga, bgo): Recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, WA on June 9, 1966

Cal Tjader (vib), Al Zulaica (p), Monk Montgomery (b), Carl Burnett (dr, timb),  Armando Peraza (cga, bgo): Recorded at the Penthouse Jazz Club in Seattle. WA on June 16, 1966

Cal Tjader (vib), Al Zulaica (p), Stan Gilbert (b), Carl Burnett (dr, timb), Armando Peraza (cga, bgo): Recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, WA on June 8, 1967

The Vibes, Vibraphone or Vibraharp is an odd beast. Depending entirely on the player, vibes can rip-roar, as with Lionel Hampton or Terry Gibbs; or they can swing smooth or sound Latin, when in the hands of a Milt Jackson, Gary Burton or Brit virtuoso Nat Steele. As this very appealing new double CD from the Jazz Detective label shows, Cal Tjader – who started out playing drums with a young Dave Brubeck – falls firmly into the second camp.

Twenty-seven tracks variously recorded between 1963 and 1967 at the Penthouse nightclub in Seattle capture Tjader with several small groups, some featuring legendary pianist and arranger Clare Fischer (Hi-Los, Dizzy, Prince, Michael Jackson, Sergio Mendes and so on).

Tjader was American with some Swedish blood but musically heavily ‘Latin’. As someone who reckons that the one sure way to kill swing is to add bongos, I’m happy to say that although all the groups here had conga, bongo and timbales players on board, their sound is never dominant and sometimes non-existent. Some tracks are just plain 3/4 or 4/4 easy swing.  The music just lilts along and if I suggest it will make wonderful background music for a dinner party or relaxed evening in, that’s by no means intended as a put-down. These bands were, after all, playing a club in a hotel and judging from the applause the room was quite small and the audience probably dining.

Tunes include A Train, Bag’s Groove, Can’t Get Started, Green Dolphin Street and a gang of Latin originals and unknowns (to me at least).

The recordings are good and clean and come from the good old days of simple mic setups and regular groups that created their own internal balance, live. Unless my ears and my computer checking software deceive me, all tracks are in mono and mercifully not tricked up into pseudo-stereo. If anything, the pure mono makes the groups sound even tighter. Just don’t go pulling your stereo hi-fi system apart looking for a fault!

The sleeve notes and booklet are extensive and informative. So, the print is pretty small. But with a silly stream you get no information at all.

This is a CD set I would probably wouldn’t have thought about buying, unless I’d heard some of it. Now I have heard it and most certainly would buy.

Cal Tjader makes everything sound so simple and easy. But as bassist Red Mitchell regularly reminded, simple isn’t easy.

A passing after-thought. Can any reader perhaps explain why the vibes are called the vibes when the rotating fans that create that characteristic wafting sound are surely adding tremolo changes of volume, rather than vibrato changes of pitch. Beats me.