Acoustic Sounds

Cal Tjader

Catch The Groove



Label: Jazz Detective

Produced By: Zev Feldman

Engineered By: Jim Wilke

Mixed By: Jim Wilke

Mastered By: Bernie Grundman

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman

By: Michael Fremer

January 9th, 2024





Jazz Detective Gets in the Groove With Vibe Man Cal Tjader

live at the penthouse 1963-1967

That Swing Thing! by The Terry Gibbs Quartet (Verve V6-8447) released in 1961 was the record that got me on the vibes bandwagon. I bought it that year at E.J. Korvette's in Douglaston, N.Y. of the Long Island Expressway.

I was too young to drive of course, so probably was taken there by my mother or sister. It's also where I heard for the first time Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'"— over a pair of Korvettes' XAM "housebrand" speakers— and fell in love with the soulful tune. That track off of That Swing Thing! was playing and I immediately bought a copy instead of whatever it was I was planning to buy. The sound of the vibes mesmerized then and still does. High fidelity helped popularize the instrument as did the exotica craze.

Then it was on to the MJQ, and a few years later Cal Tjader, though the first Cal record I bought was an oddity called Breeze From The East (Verve V6-8575) his second "oriental" flavored set— a kitschy concoction featuring a string quartet and not as effective as his earlier Lalo Schifrin arranged Several Shades of Jade. I was more attracted to the album by the cover, Hokusai's "The Great Wave at Kanagawa".

My system at the time couldn't do justice to Phil Ramone's recording (not that I had any idea at the time who Phil Ramone was!). I played it just now and the sound is remarkable, but what was then already a dated "exotica" album mixed in with what sounds like "Laugh-in" "sock it to me" segues plus some Les Baxter/Martin Denny grabs minus the tropical birds is even more so now. It's a guilty pleasure record you might find fun.

Neither record was helpful to Tjader's reputation as a serious jazz vibraphonist, unlike his earlier excursions into Latin jazz on Fantasy that definitely were. He co-founded with Gary McFarland and Gabo Szabó the short lived Skye Records label and then returned to Fantasy. In the late '70s Concord founder Carl Jefferson started Concord Picante just for Tjader who, despite his Latin music groove, was of Scandinavian descent. Tjader passed away in 1982 at age 56 while on tour in Manila. His music has been sampled hundreds of times.

These live at Seattle's Penthouse (Seattle) recordings from three dates—1963, 1965 and 1966— plus Zev Feldman's usual incredible attention to annotation detail create a compelling case for a reassessment of Tjader's career. As he says in the intro to a truly remarkable full sized, well annotated booklet, Tjader " today, truly an under-appreciated jazz giant."

The set begins with a swinging "Take the A Train" from the 1963 appearance that showcases Tjader's prodigious improvisational abilities in a group featuring underrated pianist Clare Fischer, bassist Fred Screiber and percussionists Johnny Raeand Armando Peraza. Great start! The side continues in a more middle of the road vain and ends curiously with a fade out during "Insight" at 2:39 minutes, obviously due to vinyl space limitations. It's not a big deal there but on side two as the group catches percussive fire on the side ender "Half and Half", there's another fade for the same reason. Fortunately that's the last time that happens.

The Latin flavor takes hold throughout much of the rest of the material, which is a mix of mainstream and jazz standards and lesser known (at least to me) Latin-flavored tunes. There's an interesting super-bluesy cover of "Bags' Groove" played in an "off" key that's unique among all the covers I've heard of that Milt Jackson great and the final side includes a take of Tjader's "Fuji", found on Breeze From the East—one of only four Tjader originals in the set.

This is fun, percussive, toe-tapping music, the set aptly named "Catch the Groove" that is easy to play through six sides helped by surprisingly fine mono sound (the 7" reels in the photo mean these are probably 7.5IPS recordings yet tape hiss is minimal and more importantly the timbral balance is quite good and dynamics and depth are equally good). If the sound of Tjader's vibes was anything less than enticing, how long could you listen? The vibes sound great as does all of the percussion. Credit the "restoration" (the word always gives me pause) and Bernie Grundman's lacquer cuts.

I have to circle back to the annotation before ending this. Following a short statement from the Tjader family annotator Greg Casseus delivers impassioned Tjader advocacy along with an absorbing timeline of the vibraphonist's recording career and how it intersects with these performances. It includes mention of the greats who passed through, including Chick Corea and Wes Montgomery's brother Monk and it puts in perspective Tjader's career.

The son of the club's founder adds a short statement and Jim Wilke, the original engineer—still with us—contributes as well. Feldman, ever the completist gets contributions from Carl Burnett who plays on the '66 and '67 appearances, and from Clare Fischer's son Brent, and Monk Montgomery's son Brian, among others plus from Eddie Palmieri, who calls Tjader "...the most natural musician I've ever met in my life." Gary Burton adds some thoughts as does, at the very end the aforementioned Terry Gibbs (real name Julius Gubenko)—now 99 years old! So, for me this set ends where my vibes journey began! An RSD limited to 2500 copies vinyl edition is available on Discogs

Music Specifications

Catalog No: DDJD-011


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Mono

Source: digital files from restored original master tapes

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2024-01-10 08:18:30 AM

    Come on wrote:

    Did Zev ever mention, why he lets every analog tape digitize first for his releases? How much more expensive would an AAA release be, given that for example the Craft releases are quite affordable?

    How can we get him to produce AAA?

    • 2024-01-10 04:04:13 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      The issues with some of these older tapes originally recorded to document not for release requires "restoration" work best done in the digital domain. Plus, the sides need to be assembled for cutting and these tapes might not do well being cut up....the sound of this set is really good. I don't think you'd have a problem...

      • 2024-01-10 10:01:49 PM

        Come on wrote:

        Yes, I understand. I just dare to question, that the few reasons which indeed exist for using the digital path, apply to every of Zev’s productions.

        Some of the recordings produced ADA for Resonace Records were even released AAA by 2xHD afterwards, so there must have been the option from start.

  • 2024-01-13 01:47:55 PM

    Rich wrote:

    That Korvette's brings back memories: dealing with separate Mono/Stereo sections (and pricing) and watching weekly ads for what labels were on sale. Bought my Sgt. Pepper's there, and for some reason the sort of bootleg The Original Flying Machine on 8-track. Later, my world was rocked after picking up Michael Mantler's The Hapless Child from the Import section, probably recognizing Robert Wyatt's name among the participants. Also, after learning to drive, navigating the downhill curve LIE service road detour near the Cross Island Pkwy...