Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cal Tjader: Talkin' Verve (1996)

Taken from albums Tjader recorded for Verve between 1961 and 1967, produced by Creed Taylor.

Read that Wikipedia article.  What Bert Gambini says about CTI is something:  "It's that temporal stamp that I interpret as an asset, not a liability."  That's something I think I've been trying to get at, without achieving quite that conciseness.  But that's it.  I don't often cringe when I see something that's outrĂ© in its epitomization of a past era.  I may laugh, but usually it's a sympathetic laugh, and if you can make me laugh you've mostly won me over already.  In other words, maybe I believe that if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.


So anyway, I don't know CTI records yet, and though I lived through that era I was too young to be aware of its jazz, but I think I know what it sounds like, and it makes sense as a natural progression from what Taylor was producing at Verve in the '60s.  Basically he was doing stuff that hit what he considered to be the sweet spot between jazz and pop.  That is, music with the virtues of pop - accessibility, tunefulness, emotional directness - and the instrumental richness of jazz.

If today that sounds like a formula for elevator music, that's because two or more decades of smooth jazz have ruined the concept.  (It may surprise you, if you've read all my Talkin' Verve reviews, to learn that I take a back seat to no one, except maybe Pat Metheny, in my hatred of Kenny G.)  But I don't think the idea of a jazzy pop, or a pop-inflected jazz, is intrinsically a bad one.  It certainly could never replace challenging, avant-garde jazz, but they could coexist.

Anyway, that's kind of what Verve was about from the beginning, and certainly during the '60s under Creed Taylor.  And Cal Tjader, as exemplified on this disc, is a perfect example of just how pleasant a thing that could be.

So there's Latin underpinnings on basically everything here - bossas, afro-cubano, mambos.  It's not hot'n'greasy like Willie Bobo's stuff, though;  it's cool.  Like a caipirinha.  I guess that's inevitable, being as how Cal's instrument is the vibes, but it's not just the sound:  Willie's all about the groove, and the instrumental lines tend to be almost tight enough to qualify for the Commitments' definition of soul vs. jazz.  Cal's records are full of improvising:  they're all about the solo, the instrumental interplay.  This loosens them up, and if it lowers the temperature, it also deepens the groove.  There's some seriously soulful stuff on here.

What, as they say, 's not to love?

2 comments:

Matt said...

"Basically he was doing stuff that hit what he considered to be the sweet spot between jazz and pop. That is, music with the virtues of pop - accessibility, tunefulness, emotional directness - and the instrumental richness of jazz. ... I don't think the idea of a jazzy pop, or a pop-inflected jazz, is intrinsically a bad one. It certainly could never replace challenging, avant-garde jazz, but they could coexist."

Interesting to read in the Wikipedia article that Taylor was apparently one of the driving forces behind the importation of Bossa Nova, which is another genre all mixed up with the pop/jazz nexus, and just as prone to... elevatorization, I guess.

The problem with the idea of a jazzy pop or poppy jazz starts with definitions, I think. We know them when we hear them, but are there such things as minimal definitions? If we require "swing" for jazz then (a) we are just shifting the definitional thing up a level (e.g. does Monk "swing" in the same sense that Parker does?), and (b) we are excluding lots of music that gets called jazz but actually doesn't swing (Afro-Cuban, 3rd stream, etc.) Requiring improvisation sounds good, but then again lots of jazz soloists basically memorize their solos (only improvising around the edges), certain genres involved very little improvisation at all, and on the other hand some pop/rock guitarists improvise their own solos. Etc. etc.

Tanuki said...

Much belated response to this but, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So much here.

Like, since I was raised - not just through reading criticism, but through being a marching/concert band kid in high school who played the wrong instrument (clarinet) and not well enough to get into the school jazz band - with the mystique of the jazz improviser, it blew my mind when I first learned that jazz musicians often memorize, plan out, or otherwise compose their soli. Like, that's not what Wynton tells Ken Burns. But it sure stands to reason. Like, playing the same tune night after night, how could you *not* find things you liked, that worked real well, that audiences responded to, and that you therefore wanted to repeat? Especially if you're going to set it down on vinyl in front of God and everybody.