In the mid-to-late-’50s, small jazz labels such as Fantasy often put ad-hoc groups together in the studio, and released the results under a variety of names. If there was extra material, it could end up as filler under the name of one of the “sidemen,” or just stay in the vault (awaiting the emergence of the CD reissue craze). The six musicians gathered under the credited leaders of Cal Tjader and Stan Getz for Sextet may have thought that would be the case with their sessions on February 8, 1958. If so, they would have been very mistaken.
Sextet has taken its rightful place as a jazz classic all these years later. The reason for this may have surprised the likes of Ralph J. Gleason (who wrote the original liner notes). But with the benefit of hindsight, one is able to clearly see the reason the date was so successful. In a word, it is talent. The date was something of a summit meeting of jazz giants, although nobody realized it at the time.
Getz’s saxophone had already garnered a lot of attention, as had the vibes (and songwriting) of Tjader. Vince Guaraldi (piano) had yet to discover his Charlie Brown muse, but his piano provides splendid accompaniment throughout the seven tracks. Then there is Eddie Duran (guitar), who offers equally empathetic melodic lines.
And how about that rhythm section? Although Billy Higgins (drums) was still relatively unknown, that would change soon with his long-term association with free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. Finally, we come to Scott Lafaro (bass), who redefined jazz bass playing forever during his all too brief career, especially as a part of the Bill Evans Trio.
With the level of musicians in the room, the pieces were in place to be sure. However, there is one other crucial element for a successful collaboration, and that is the compositions themselves. With what has since become a jazz standard, Vince Guaraldi’s “Ginza Samba” leads the album off in a supremely winning way.
Tjader’s vibes, Getz’s sax, Guaraldi’s piano, and Duran’s guitar all solo extensively during “Ginza’s” bossa nova part, but always stay true to the spirit of the song. Scott Lafaro may have been the least known member of the sextet at the time, but his bass solo during Tjader’s “Crows Nest” is a wonder.
Cal Tjader’s vibes never sound brighter than as the main voice of the Lerner and Lowe classic ballad “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face.” Getz shines brightly on the final track of the set, “My Buddy,” a Gus Kahn-Walter Donaldson composition.
The Sextet album is something of an anomaly in the Original Jazz Classics Remastered series as there are literally no leftovers from the original sessions. Everything those six men played that long ago afternoon was released at the time, which is saying something. Sextet remains as impressive and absorbing as it was all those years ago. Give it a listen.