A River Runs Through It


Already two decades into a deep Latin groove by the mid-1970s, Cal Tjader took his journey a step further -- and in an intriguing direction -- with the release of Amazonas in 1975. In this outing, with help from producer Airto Moreira and arranger George Duke, Tjader grafted elements of 1970s-era funk and electronica onto the Afro-Brazilian music that constituted the main stem of his music. The result is an innovative album that moves in many interesting directions but never loses its way.

Backed by a tight and efficient seven-man team from south of the border, Tjader launches into the set with the title track penned by João Donato. Alternating between vibes and marimba alongside Duke's otherworldly keyboard work, Tjader creates a track that's paradoxically breezy and intense at the same time.

He later shares the spotlight with flutist Hermeto Pascoal on an exotic rendition of Pascoal's "Mindoro" that combines Tjader's marimbas and the tune's syncopated rhythm to make for an engaging foray. "Corrine" leans much farther toward balladry, with a main theme laid down by Duke (credited here as Dawilli Gonga, for reasons of contractual restriction) via electronic keyboards that occasionally bend and reshape certain notes and phrases into quirky but interesting little statements.

The CD reissue of this set in the mid-'90s (currently available in the Digital Only section) includes two versions of pianist Aloisio Milanez's "Cahuenga" -- the first being the shorter version that originally made the LP cut, the second a much longer affair that creates more room for dynamic variation and emotional expression.

Like the river after which it's named, Amazonas travels deep into the heart of Brazil, but digs for treasure there with tools that are familiar to northern ears.