Vibraphonist/percussionist Cal Tjader, who passed away in 1982, was one of the biggest non-Latin proponents of Afro-Cuban music in jazz. From the time he played with George Shearing in 1953, he developed a love for Latin music that would define the rest of his career. While it has been over twenty years since he passed away, it is fortunate that Fantasy Records has unearthed additional recordings from a 1977 date at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, that was the source of his Galaxy recording, Here
, to give us an additional seventy-four minutes of high energy Latin music on Cuban Fantasy
Tjader was known as a bandleader who helped develop young artists, and this date is all the more interesting for the appearance of a young Poncho Sanchez on percussion, who has gone on to record a number of significant albums under his own name. Clare Fischer on electric piano, a strong leader in his own right, brings some of the energy from his big band work to this recording. Guitarist Bob Redfield plays it hard, sounding like a 1970s Lee Ritenour, crossed with some of the rock sensibilities of Carlos Santana. The Santana link is no surprise; Cal Tjader was a strong influence on Santana’s early work. Bassist Rob Fisher and drummer Pete Riso bring an almost fusion-like intensity to the date. In fact, while Tjader loved Cuban music, by interpreting it with a more traditionally jazz-like rhythm section, the music almost approaches a fusion sound; certainly this recording would have easily fit into the CTI catalogue from the time.
Tjader will not be remembered as a particularly outstanding or trend-setting vibraphonist; nevertheless there is a certain joyfulness in his playing, and he contributes many fine solos to a set which allows all the band members to stretch out. The program consists of Afro-Cuban pieces by writers including Ray Bryant, Clare Fischer, Mongo Santamaria and Tjader himself. And no Tjader concert performance would be complete without the Dizzy Gillespie song, "Guachi Guara", which was a big hit for Tjader, and is given an extended treatment.
While the recording sounds somewhat dated, there is a certain charm to it, and a passion and energy from all the participants that makes it a thoroughly engaging listen. What Tjader lacks in inventiveness he makes up for in spontaneity, and his concept of Latin fusion was clearly influential. Cuban Fantasy
is a fine live recording of Afro-Cuban fusion from a group that clearly understands its roots, while at the same time bringing something new to the table.