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Cal Tjader: Concerts in the Sun

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How is this such a mixed bag? Let me count the ways: A juxtaposition of idioms, from straightahead to Latin; alternating bassists, from Victor Venegas to Eddie Coleman; a switching of venues, from Honolulu to Santa Monica; an inevitable change in sound, due to varying recording techniques; and a gap of five months between two live recording sessions, May to October 1960.

Another mixture that affects the bilingual thrust of these 10 previously unreleased tracks: The centerpiece, Cal Tjader, is too polite on the jazz tracks and lacks passion in his Latin playing. Maybe that’s where he was at that stage of his dual career. It falls to pianist Lonnie Hewitt to carry the load. That he does, in part due to the late addition of Mongo Santamaria. Conversely, the presence of Willie Bobo only helps on the Latin charts. During jazz numbers, particularly “Walkin’ With Wally” and “Sigmund Stern Groove,” easily the best track of the album, Bobo tends to come down on two-and-four rim shots with pile-driver persistence. Bassist Coleman provides excellent walking lines on both uptempo numbers-in stark contrast to the muddy articulation and questionable intonation of his counterpart, Venegas. Something else questionable, and granted, it’s a matter of personal taste, but Hewitt’s showcase on the ballad “My Romance” seems to emasculate that Rodgers gem with weak reharmonizations.

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