The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980 is compiled of spirited Tjader performances from four separate appearances at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The first half of the disc is taken from the vibraphonist's 1958 headlining set with his fiery jazz-meets-Latin ensemble consisting of pianist Vince Guaraldi, bassist Al McKibbon, drummer Willie Bobo and percussionist Mongo Santamaria. The first two tracks, "Summertime" and "Now's the Time," the disc's only straight-ahead performances, feature legendary clarinetist Buddy DeFranco in characteristically swinging fashion.
The highlight of the collection comes from a lengthy 1972 performance of "Manteca" featuring guest soloists Dizzy Gillespie (who co-composed the piece with conguero Chano Pozo) and Clark Terry. The two trumpet masters bring blazing technique and soulful humor to the stage, spurring on the insatiable electric piano comping of Michael Wolff.
Percussionist Santamaria's signature tune "Afro Blue," from the 1974 festival, finds the composer in fine form with an energetic unaccompanied conga solo. Flutist Jerome Richardson adds flair to the extended, brooding solo vamp. After a brief reading of Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," showcasing Tjader's flowing lyricism, the disc ends with an ultra-cool rendition of "Speak Low" from 1980.
Tjader's cool style of improvising is front-and-center throughout. Steeped in the bebop tradition and influenced by Afro-Cuban syncopation, Tjader solos with an inventive spark, exciting and accessible. These previously unreleased tracks (with the exception of "Summertime") are a welcome addition to Tjader's well documented recorded legacy.