14 Jan 2022


Fine seventies Latin Jazz from vibesman Cal Tjader, ‘Agua Dulce’ includes the strong title song, the brilliant Latin cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ plus blistering Latin grooves ‘Ran Kan Kan’ and ‘Descarga’. ‘Agua Dulce’ is early 70’s Latin Jazz performed at its finest.

'Digitally remastered edition of this 1971 album from the Jazz great. Vibes player Cal Tjader was one of the leading figures in Latin Jazz. Based in California, he recorded for Fantasy throughout the '50s before moving on to Verve, where he achieved international success with his album Soul Sauce, with it's dance floor-friendly title track. He then set up his own label, Skye, before re-signing to Fantasy in 1971.'

'ONE OF THE most successful, most recorded and most influential jazz players of his time, Cal Tjader is these days a largely overlooked figure in the music’s history. Part of the cause of his lack of recognition is present in the reasons he was so successful. Tjader made no great leaps forward harmonically or rhythmically, but instead showed how jazz and Afro-Cuban music could blend together with the vibraphone as the lead instrument, its percussiveness working very well in that musical context. In doing so, he was followed by many others, his commercial success affording him the opportunity to record a great number of albums. However, Tjader died early – in 1982 – and this contributed to him becoming almost forgotten in the jazz world. Yet in the UK he is remembered with fondness by several generations of jazz clubbers for his 1950s mambos, 60s latin-soul grooves and 70s latin-funk, while his final albums for Concord provided jazz dancers with the timeless ‘Shoshana’. His early 70s albums for Fantasy are among his most overlooked, which, as you will hear on this CD, is a real shame, as his playing and the arrangements are of the very highest quality.' -BGP

'Although Cal Tjader is best-known for Latin-American music, he was also a jazzman, having started his career playing vibes and percussion with Dave Brubeck and George Shearing. His interest in Latin music dated from the early 1950s and his groups included such famous Latin musicians as Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo and (as on this disc) Pete Escovedo.

Agua Dulce was recorded in 1971, and the title-track's easy lilt owes much to Cal Tjader's vibes, which give the music here and throughout an airy feel, contrasted with the down-to-earth Latin percussion. There is some fiery timbales playing on this cut. Other outstanding tracks include the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, which is some distance from the Stones' original rocking number, although it uses the tune's basic three-note pattern as a foundation for some buoyant playing.

Ran Kan Kan is a Tito Puente composition that flows along breezily. Bronislau Kaper's Invitation is a striking tune that has become a jazz standard: it is only marred by the female choir which also gets in the way of some other tracks. Morning is an attractive tune, although that ethereal choir is again an impediment.

Despite its undoubted appeal, this album lasts for only 35 minutes. Indeed, it has previously been reissued on a CD together with the Live at the Funky Quarters LP. But this CD is worth buying if you can get it for mid-price or less.'  -Tony Augarde

Cal Tjader

Real Name:
Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr.
American latin jazz musician, artist, and composer.

Born: 16 July 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Died: 5 May 1982 in Manila, Philippines (aged 56).

Renowned American latin jazz musician from the 1950s onwards until his death. Best known for his talents on the vibraphone, but also accomplished on drums and bongos.

'Cal Tjader was undoubtedly the most famous non-Latino leader of Latin jazz bands, an extraordinary distinction. From the 1950s until his death, he was practically the point man between the worlds of Latin jazz and mainstream bop; his light, rhythmic, joyous vibraphone manner could comfortably embrace both styles. His numerous recordings for Fantasy and Verve and long-standing presence in the San Francisco Bay Area eventually had a profound influence upon Carlos Santana, and thus Latin rock. He also played drums and bongos, the latter most notably on the George Shearing Quintet's puckishly titled "Rap Your Troubles in Drums," and would occasionally sit in on piano as well.

Tjader studied music and education at San Francisco State College before hooking up with fellow Bay Area resident Dave Brubeck as the drummer in the Brubeck Trio from 1949 to 1951. He then worked with Alvino Rey, led his own group, and in 1953, joined George Shearing's then hugely popular quintet as a vibraphonist and percussionist. It was in Shearing's band that Tjader's love affair with Latin music began, ignited by Shearing's bassist Al McKibbon, nurtured by contact with Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, and Armando Peraza, and galvanized by the '50s mambo craze. When he left Shearing the following year, Tjader promptly formed his own band that emphasized the Latin element yet also played mainstream jazz. Bobo and Santamaria eventually joined Tjader's band as sidemen, and Vince Guaraldi served for a while as pianist and contributor to the band's songbook ("Ginza," "Thinking of You, MJQ"). Tjader recorded a long series of mostly Latin jazz albums for Fantasy from the mid-'50s through the early '60s, switching in 1961 to Verve, where under Creed Taylor's aegis he expanded his stylistic palette and was teamed with artists like Lalo Schifrin, Anita O'Day, Kenny Burrell, and Donald Byrd. Along the way, Tjader managed to score a minor hit in 1965 with "Soul Sauce," a reworking of Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo's "Guacha Guaro," which Tjader had previously cut for Fantasy. Tjader returned to Fantasy in the 1970s, then in 1979 moved over to the new Concord Picante label, where he remained until his death.' -Artist Biography by Richard S. Ginell

Cal Tjader - Agua Dulce 1971

Jazz / Latin / Cha-Cha / Latin Jazz / Guaguancó / Bolero

'The Fantasy label is the rightful home of vibraphonist Cal Tjader (1925–1982) who has released the vast majority of his latter discography on this very label, but you know the saying, a name is just a name, and once it is uttered many times, it loses its meaning and becomes commonplace. But here the label’s name perfectly fits as Tjader hands in a liquedous masterpiece of Fusion Jazz spiced with Space-Age and Exotica pericarps. Agua Dulce is that artifact of affection, named after the Bolivian canton.

Released in 1971, spawning nine tracks in total – one of them a unique piece by Tjader – and comprising the talent of 13 musicians, the big band doesn’t shy away from using electronic devices to underline the magic of the vibraphone and augment the aqualung zoetrope. These devices are not gimmicky at all but underline the brass layers and bongo beats perfectly. Among the personnel are trumpeters Frank Snow and Pat Houston, vocalists and drummers Coke & Pete Escovedo as well as Moog synthesist Rita Dowling and Fender Rhodes pianist Al Zulaica. Even though Agua Dulce sounds like a mess from the outset snce it serrates Afro-Cuban elements with Space-Age wisps and, heck, even New Age timbres, the result is definitely tempting. Read more about the timeless fusion of Agua Dulce below.

The opening spot is reserved for the eponymous title track which encounters a significant addendum and becomes known as Agua Dulce (Cool-Ade), originally composed by Johnny & Shuggie Otis and Preston Love. Aquatic splashes of the saccharified kind greet the listener who joins the fun when the recording session is already running. This in medias res approach boosts both the liveliness and immediacy. The guiro is already rasping decortications into the chant-filled vibraphone glaze, Rita Dowling’s cosmic Moog synthesizer exudes its dark matter coils, the brass section unfurls dirty horns amid the galactic cesspool. The Escovedo Bros. underline their chants with their very own timbales, Jim McCabe’s electric bass rounds off the labyrinthine fundament. The title track is supercharged with textures and movements, curiously dun-colored and hazy despite the pristine clarity of the drums and electronic instruments. It is as if the aura is purposefully limewashed. And this impression persists… but doesn’t harm the album one bit, I must add!

Cal Tjader’s own Curaçao appears, a critter of five and a half minutes that is close to the jungle, resembling the viridian/green waves of the front artwork and the titular liquor. The bandleader’s sun-dappled vibraphone contains enough contemplative tones to make it a bluesy piece alright. Siren-like background singers, Tjader’s trademark pointillism in the middle section, sizzling cymbals and Al Zulaica’s plinking Fender Rhodes piano inject a crystalline clarity that is yet again made fuzzy and dreamy due to the sustained reverb of the mallet instrument. While Billy May’s Somewhere In The Night is one of Tjader’s gorgeously soothing arrangements that exude anything but the peaceful moonlight in a very orderly, streamlined and mellow epithelium of mellifluousness, Mick Jagger’s and Keith Richards’ Gimme Shelter is a spacy journey to faraway galaxies of caproic coruscation, uniting the Space-Age genre with Exotica. Theremin-like Moog oscillations, fast tempos, icy veils and wah-wah guitars enshrine Tjader’s vibraphone and make an epiphany out of an already catchy Rock track.

Side B launches with Tito Puente’s Ran Kan Kan, an obvious Can Can interpretation that stays close to the original, but is obviously much more scintillating due to the vibraphone cascades which, in tandem with the glacial electric piano, make an icicle out of a tropical arrangement… quite a metamorphosis! The timbales, guiros and cowbells provide the bosky base, or else the polyhedric sapphire-like illuminations would outglow the earthen rhizomes and uplifting chants. Osvaldo Estivill’s Descarga Cubana then shuttles between Crime Jazz-inspired cocktail lounge vibes, sleazy basslines, Latin polyphony and maraca-heavy percussion aortas, all the while Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation is another superiorly dreamy masterpiece of languor. It has been featured on many of Tjader’s albums and was first introduced on Latin Kick (1956). The version on Agua Dulce however basks in lactalbumin: the mixed choir is intensely luring, the evoked antrum feels like a New Age sanctuary, the vibes retroject glaucous colors.

The best tune of side B for sure! Whereas David MacKay’s Now features the same mixed choir in a brass-heavy, sun-laden diorama with eminently catchy sparks and lots of tones in major, Douglas Clare Fischer’s gold standard Morning is the hammock-compatible apotheosis, very hazy, as if perceived from a distance. The character is nevertheless festive, since the brass layers are more streamlined. A wonderfully polyfoil outro.

Agua Dulce lives up to its own title and front artwork, even though the latter is obviously no masterpiece per se, as it is all too easily accomplished. The range of colors, the fir-green hue and cyan tint are perfectly transferred into music. While the tropics are always nearby due to the Latin instruments and Cuban chants, many of the arrangements sound refreshing, others even go so far as to evoke a thin layer of hoarfrost! Agua Dulce is by no means a pluvial record; its superfluids are of a different nature. Sometimes based on nutritious cataracts, at other times depicting channels of high-energy hydrazine before venturing to mucoid potassium puddles, Cal Tjader’s album is unapologetically accessible, leaving the more convoluted Jazz roots behind – just like Solar Heat (1968) – in order to enchant with an array of melodies that are open to scrutiny.

The abundance of texture might occasionally seem overly sumptuous. After all, less is more. But here the cosmic Fender Rhodes pianos and Moog synthesizers add that certain something to the vibraphonist’s band. The benthic floralcy of Agua Dulce is hard to elbow away, its chants and exotic currents are too tempting. Fans of Tjader’s eclectic albums might be disappointed but Space-Age/Exotica fans should not resist: the album sits right in-between these two styles and is easily available on vinyl, CD, digital download and subscription services.'

1. Agua Dulce (Cool-Ade) 4:08
2. Curacao 5:38
3. Somewhere In The Night 4:25
4. Gimme Shelter 2:55
5. Ran Kan Kan 3:02
6. Descarga Cuban 3:05
7. Invitation 3:04
8. Now 5:28
9. Morning 3:28

Cal Tjader - Vibes, percussion
Luis Gasca, Pat Houston, Frank Snow - Trumpets
Gerry Gilmore, Mel Martin - Flutes, saxes
Bill Perkins - Tenor sax
Al Zulaica - Fender Rhodes
Rita Dowling - Moog Synthesizer
Jim McCabe, Ron McClure, Phil Escovedo - Bass
Richard Berk, Lee Charlton - Drums
Michael Smithe - Congas
Pete Escovedo - Congas, vocals
Coke Escovedo - Timbales, vocals