Saxophonist Stan Getz and vibes player Cal Tjader were mutual admirers of each other’s work and had wanted to record together for some time. Finally in 1958 they found themselves both in San Francisco; Getz was booked at the Black Hawk in San Francisco, and Tjader was taking time off. They put together a collection of talented West Coast musicians to accompany them, but it would have been too early to call it an all-star line-up back then. For example, piano great Vince Guaraldi would have to wait almost a decade before he reached legendary status due to his work on the Peanuts TV specials. Bassist Scott LaFaro wasn’t known outside of the Los Angeles jazz scene and it would be another year before he joined the Bill Evans trio where his talents truly soared to prominence.
The album opens with the Guaraldi-penned “Ginza Samba,” a 10-minute number that really swings and gets the whole band involved right from the get-go. Drummer Billy Higgins and LaFaro lay down an amazing rhythm foundation, letting the others shine on the tune by taking the lead at different point, although Higgins does have some flourishes at the end of the track.
What I enjoy about this track is that it prefaces what the album is about: the music. Even though Getz and Tjader are the names in front of the sextet, they don’t dominate the sound. They get out of the way and stop playing before the song is half over, not needing to be part of every note. You almost forget they are part of the number when they come back in.
The album then slows down with a couple of ballads. They make a great choice with “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” as the vibes and sax trade off on the vocals, reflecting the different emotions of the lyrics. It’s from My Fair Lady and is sung by Professor Henry Higgins, no relation to Billy. It is followed by the standard “For All We Know,” which was a hit previously with Nat King Cole.
On track four, which would have been the opening track on side two, of the record, they repeat the formula and get the whole band swinging again with the Tjader composition “Crow’s Nest.” This track is similar to “Ginza Samba” in that everyone gets a bit of the spotlight. LaFaro even gets some solo time in, and man, does he make that bass sing.
The rest of the album is comprised of ballads, ending with “My Buddy,” an appropriate tune since this is the best example of Getz and Tjader really playing together. On most of the other songs, they are trading off the lead, but on this track they close the song as a duet.
This sextet was so talented that they gelled as a cohesive unit immediately. The album was recorded in less than three hours with only two of the selections requiring more than one take. It’s a great collection of West Coast jazz.