Cal Tjader -- Mas Ritmo Caliente

Originally published in "Los in the Grooves" by Kim Cooper and David Smay

Routledge 2005

In spite of his lack of pigmentation Callen Radcliffe Tjader Jr., better known as Cal Tjader, was the coolest cat in Latin jazz.The multi-talented percussionist recorded dozens of albums over the years, most of them exploring his sincere and profound interest in this genre.

Mas Ritmo Caliente captures, exemplifies and defines that magic moment when cool jazz met hot, North American rhythm met Carribean and East Coast met West. Culling talent from each locale, Tjader divided the album among three separate recording sessions in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. In 1957 these musicians were in peak form and exhibit the youthful exhuberance that was part of the Latin Jazz explosion.

The album opens with "Perdido" (1942), one of the first Latin jazz tunes ever written. Other highlights include "Poinciana Cha Cha" an upbeat number that allows the groove to move you, and "Mongorama" by Mongo Santamaria who at the ripe old age of thirty-five is the senior member of this group! The song is an excuse to wail and wail they do as Mongo and Willie Bobo share the limelight.

The final cut, "Perfidia Cha Cha," begins with Jerry Sanfino on flute and Cal on vibes playing the opening bars. Then "Chombo" Silva takes the lead with a masterful improvisation. Eventually, each soloist takes a turn while Mongo, Luis Kant and Willie Bobo churn out beats that you cannot sit still to. At 8:12 the engineer pulls down on the faders because he has run out of vinyl. The musicians keep playing as they always do, and I would give the world to hear the rest of that jam session. In the meantime, I'll savor what we have on Mas Ritmo Caliente by Cal Tjader Con Amigos. Are you sure that cat is white?