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Two Latin Jazz gems from the late vibraphonist Cal Tjader, “In a Latin Bag” and “Soña Libré” have recently become available through streaming services.
Cal Tjader in the 60’s
Both “In a Latin Bag” (1961) and “Soña Libré” (1963) were recorded as part of Tjader’s prolific 60s.
Tjader began his recording career in 1951 with Fantasy Records, with whom he recorded and released 21 albums during the 50’s. He also recorded one album with the Savoy label, released in 1954.
But the 60’s was Cal Tjader’s most prolific recording decade. He released an astonishing 27 albums, 15 of them with Verve Records.
“In a Latin Bag“
“In a Latin Bag” was recorded and released in 1961, the first album he did with the Verve Records. It followed the release of “West Side Story“, in which he converted the music of Leonard Bernstein’s award winning play and film into jazz arrangements.
In part due to his prolific recordings, Tjader often converted music from other artists to his Latin jazz style, and attained great success doing it.
“In a Latin Bag” contains two movie scores. The opening “Ben Hur” (the one song I didn’t care much in the album, to be honest), and “Green Dolphin Street“.
This later one was first recorded for the 1947 movie of the same name, which was based on the 1944 novel (…you guessed it…) of the same name. It became a jazz standard when Miles Davis recorded it in 1958, and Bill Evans did the same the following year. Tjader’s version is a fine one as well.
“Speak Low” and “Misty” are two covers of popular jazz songs of the 40’s and 50’s respectively.
There was room for some original songs in this album. “Ecstasy” and “Half and Half” were written by flutist/saxophonist Paul Horn. “Mambo in Miami“, one of my album favorites, was written by Cuban bongo player Armando Peraza.
“In a Latin Bag” is a nice Latin Jazz gem.
Here’s a version of “Speak Low” live with the Cal Tjader’s band of 1980, which includes Poncho Sanchez on congas.
This is a somewhat Brazilian themed album, and another good one. Billboard Magazine said it was “a solid collection of tracks that have swing and a quiet insistent sound“.
“Soña Libré” was recorded a year after “Cal Tjader Plays the Contemporary Music of Mexico and Brazil“, a concept album heavily influenced by keyboardist, arranger and composer Clare Fischer. Fischer was also the pianist of “Soña Libré“.
Although Clare Fischer didn’t participate in “In a Latin Bag” he did collaborate on a few albums with Cal Tjader during this period of the early 60’s, including the “West Side Story” album.
We also don’t have Armando Peraza in this album. Instead, the percussion includes Bill Fitch on congas and Johnny Rae on drums and timbales.
Two Good Cal Tjader Albums
Both of these albums are very good, even if they weren’t as popular or spicy as other Tjader albums like “Soul Sauce“, which would come only a year later. Yet, you can certainly hear and enjoy the Cal Tjader sound that made his music so enchanting.
They are both worth a listen.