From the Sweet Spot

Cal Tjader, Part Three: Odds and Ends

Issue 140

Eddie Palmieri, The Skye Records Era, Savoy Records, and Huracan

In our previous installment (Issue 139), we reached the end of Tjader’s tenure with Verve Records. (Part One of this series in Issue 138 covered Cal Tjader’s early career.) With this third part in our survey, we’ll gather up a few odds and ends by looking at one final Verve album, a related album for Tico, and a trio of labels he briefly recorded for.

Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri

I set aside one Verve album for this third installment. El Sonido Nuevo – The New Soul Sound paired Tjader with pianist Eddie Palmieri and his renowned La Perfecta band, augmented with two additional trombones and bassist Bobby Rodriguez for this gig. The tension of Palmieri’s brassy and tense Nuyorican sound (which would later be known as “salsa”) situated against Tjader’s West Coast cool created a memorable outing for both musicians.

While the liner notes make a big deal of the rapport between Tjader and Palmieri, apparently one source claims that in an interview Eddie Palmieri gave in recent years, the two never performed together on this album. Palmieri and La Perfecta recorded their parts; then, by telephone conversation, Palmieri advised Tjader on where to add his vibraphone parts.

Here are a couple of featured tracks. “Los Jibaros” leads off the album.

 

They would also record what has become a Latin music standard – Tito Puente’s “Picadillo.”

 

The duo also reconvened shortly thereafter on Palmieri’s label, Tico Records, for the similarly excellent (if slightly less clearly-recorded) Bamboléate. (Sources I’ve read have placed the recording date anywhere from a few weeks up to a full year later than El Sonido Nuevo.) In order for Tjader to record outside his Verve contract, the labels made an agreement where the two artists would record one duo album for each label.

Where the prior album had a lot of creative tension, the feeling here is perhaps a little more relaxed at times, and Tjader’s vibraphone again blows a cool breeze through the proceedings. His initial recording of “Samba do Sueno” featured here percolates at a much lower level than the version he would record on his Verve album Along Comes Cal about a year after Bamboleate was released.

 

And since Palmieri is known for his montuno style, here is a good example, “Mi Montuno.”

 

Both Tjader/Palmieri albums are available on CD and streaming.

Cal Tjader on Skye Records

After Cal recorded his final album for Verve, he co-founded a new label with Norman Schwartz, Gary McFarland and Gabor Szabo, named Skye Records. Tjader looked forward to having more freedom at the independent label, but Skye would only last a couple of years before falling on financial hard times. Tjader would issue only three records with the label: Solar Heat, Plugs In (at the Lighthouse) and Sounds Out Burt Bacharach. The contents of a fourth album remained in the vaults until the DCC label released these tracks as Latin + Jazz = Tjader, although it confusingly adds a track from Plugs In (“Nica’s Dream”) to fill out the disc.

The title track from Solar Heat was penned by Tjader and Gary McFarland. You will notice from the arrangement and instrumentation that Tjader had somewhat modernized his sound.

 

Recorded at The Lighthouse, Tjader plugged in with a nice arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.”

 

With Sounds Out Burt Bacharach, Tjader succeeds in recording what is essentially a pop instrumental record, free of any Latin influence and skirting jazz as well. An interesting if non-essential album in his catalog, it’s a recording you can safely walk on by from and not miss much of anything.

 

From the live recording Latin + Jazz = Tjader, here is a tune penned by Tjader’s long-time conguero Armando Peraza, “Armando’s Bossa.”

 

For anyone interested in the Skye recordings, I would suggest finding either the original Skye pressings if looking for vinyl, or the DCC releases for digital. (Note that these are standard CDs – not the gold CD reissues that DCC was known for.) The label’s recordings have been bounced around between owners so many times that there are many questionable versions of these albums out there. I have a Gryphon release of Solar Heat on vinyl that has a very strange tonal balance to it (and I believe the channel balance is way off), whereas the various CD versions out there may be a grab bag in terms of quality. There are also compilations that reuse the cover art from Sounds Out Burt Bacharach, such as the Fried Bananas CD with the cover art tinted green. The only “official” compilation on vinyl I can think of is Tjader-Ade, released back when Buddah Records owned the label.

Cal Tjader at Crystal Clear Records

Jumping ahead in our timeline, Tjader recorded Huracan, a one-off record for Crystal Clear Records, a direct-to-disc recording label, in 1978. This would later be reissued on CD by the budget label Laserlight with two additional tracks that were not on the original LP (which contained only four tracks, as it was recorded at 45 RPM). As with many direct-to-disc recordings, this one has a stiff, tentative performance, the band afraid to let loose since any mistake in the performance would mean a wasted lacquer on the cutting lathe. Evidence of this is in the title track, “Huracan,” featured here. Despite essentially an all-star cast (Willie Bobo, Clare Fischer, Poncho Sanchez, Frank Rosolino, and others), it feels as though nothing ignites much of a fire beneath the musicians.

 

Cal Tjader at Savoy Records

Our final rarity reaches way back to the 1950s. After Tjader recorded his initial 78s for Fantasy, but before he began recording his LPs for the label, he recorded a handful of sides for Savoy Records, which were eventually released on a 10-inch LP. Here is “Minority.”

 

As neither Huracan nor the Savoy sides are available on Qobuz, I’ve compiled two playlists.  One features highlights from the Skye Records catalog.

https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/6221894

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqXkJPkOFzFlYpedTdVWon5mYH2yJvDxC

The other is a combination of both Cal Tjader/Eddie Palmieri albums, resequenced together.

https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/6211154

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqXkJPkOFzFnIbepmsDAsnOM_PcGGGqkq

Our next installment continues our Tjader timeline, and could be considered a homecoming as Tjader moves to yet another label to begin the 1970s.

One comment on “Cal Tjader, Part Three: Odds and Ends”

  1. Thanks again for a really great series. The Savoy stuff is completely new to me. And listening carefully, I can believe that Palmieri and Tjader worked over the telephone. Oddly enough, I never could get excited about el sonido, now I know why.

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