Somewhere in a carton in the back of a closet in our laundry room there’s one of those red vinyl LP’s Fantasy Records was putting out back in the ’50s. It was called Ritmo Caliente and it marked the first record I ever bought by vibes master Cal Tjader. Tjader, although he had played with George Shearing, was probably best known at the time for his work in combining Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz, and the Ritmo Caliente was trade mark Tjader.
Saxophonist Stan Getz, on the other hand, was more or less a straight ahead jazz man. He had begun with the Woody Herman Orchestra to become one of the premier sax players of the day. It wasn’t until later in his career that he became associated with bossa nova. If I’m not mistaken, there’s an album he made with Gerry Mulligan in that same carton.
Tjader and Getz knew each other, but they hadn’t recorded together. Hadn’t, that is, until they got together for a 1958 session for Fantasy to record the Stan Getz/Cal Tjader Sextet.
The session they produced, now available in a remastered release from Concord Music Group, is enough to make any jazz enthusiast sorry the two men never managed to get together more often. They work together like the proverbial well-oiled machine. Ballad or uptempo, it doesn’t matter; they blend like they’d been playing together for years. As the liner notes point out, it isn’t always the case that all star combos always mesh well. The parts don’t always produce a cohesive whole—not the case here. Here we have a sextet led by two all stars where the whole is just as good as, if not better than the sum of its parts.
There are seven tracks on the disc and each one is better than the other. According to the new liner notes written for the remastered release, there are no extra tracks on the new release. Because everything that was recorded at the original session was so good, it was all included on the original release. There were no alternate takes. None were needed.
The sextet features Vince Guaraldi on the piano and Eddie Duran on guitar, both of whom had played with Tjader. Bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Billy Higgins came along with Getz. Duran had played with Getz, but the notes indicate that none of the others had played together before. Still, whether working on old standards or new pieces composed for the set, they played seamlessly.
The set opens with a Guaraldi composition, “Ginza Samba.” It runs over 10 minutes and while it begins with the Latin beat that was to become associated with bossa nova, it goes back to the more conventional 4/4 rhythm for long solos through the middle to the end.
The set ends with a lyrical take on the old standby “My Buddy.” Tjader’s mellow opening solo is followed by a swinging passage from Getz, before they come together for some dynamic interaction at the song’s ending.
Tjader does some sweet work on Lerner and Loewe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” and there’s a real sparkle to the ending. “For All We Know” gets a restrained treatment from Tjader’s vibes, which gets picked up by Getz in his solo.
Three pieces by Tjader round out the album: “Big Bear,” an uptempo swinger, “Liz-Anne,” a waltz written for his daughter, and “Crow’s Nest,” which gives them an opportunity for a funkier vibe. Getz does some nice solo work on the waltz, and both he and Tjader riff together with abandon on “Crow’s Nest.” Guaraldi and Duran get their licks as well. There’s even a funky bass solo.
All in all, this is one fine album, well worth resurrecting.