INSIDE SCOOP: The Cal Tjader Trio - The Cal Tjader Trio
Fantasy, 2013 Record Store Day Re-Release (Orig 1953)
People have spent every grain of sand in their hourglasses to posture themselves as “cool”. Though the word usually has something to do with an association with people admired for their bold lifestyle, there is no concise definition. Coolness develops. It follows trends up until their peak of popularity and suddenly vanishes to some secret insider corner of fancy.
Around the late 40s was when the word “Cool” came to prominence in Jazz informality. It was a distinctive way of talking about a Jazz style popular on college campuses, much like Cal Tjader’s own San Francisco state. The University brought him to work with like-minded eventual greats like Dave Brubeck and his Dave Brubeck Octet, who Tjader joined for his first recorded release in 1950. Though an accomplished Jazz drummer, Tjader’s real passion in music blossomed from his combined gift for melodic and rhythmic improvisations. With this asset he excelled as a vibraphone player. Though Brubeck and his peers often gravitated to muted and savvy sounds of Cool Jazz, Tjader began to resonate with growing trends in Latin styles of Jazz.
The Cal Tjader Trio was Tjader’s first was his first recording with a group all his own. While his initial recorded release with the Dave Brubeck Octet leant itself to the subtle gloominess of blending classical technique and careful improvisation, this one surely allows his melodic intuitions to flourish. Also this record is Vince Guaraldi’s debut as an accompanist, and his playfully frantic chords are an excellently syncopated foreground for Tjaders Vibraphone meanderings. The LP kicks off perfectly with a tickling mambo rendition of Chopsticks that features bongos as the primary lead instrument. It’s a statement of finding beauty in keeping a simple form to express a deviation from convention. This was as ‘outside of the box’ as a multi-instrumentalist could get back in ‘53.
Unlike his peers, Tjader pursued his convictions for Latin music by resorting to this model when finding his own voice; somewhere between Jazz and Latin folk rhythm. Despite the fluctuation in popularity of Latin Jazz , he would continue to play and peddle his own definitive brand that would later give inspiration for Exotica composers like Les Baxter and Arthur Lyman in the latter half of the 1950s.
Coolness may often be about knowing the right people, but is also about finding a way to distinguish yourself from them. In a way this is the story of Cal Tjader’s career. With his sharp bohemian connections and an undying inner narrative informing his skills, Tjader’s contributions came from being an exception an eventual rule for latin improvisational Jazz.
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