World & Latin

Live Vibe


Sometimes the really good stuff stays hidden for a while. Such was the case with vibist Cal Tjader's Cuban Fantasy, released in 2003 (on the Fantasy label, coincidentally or not) after sitting in the vaults for more that 25 years.

Back in 1977, Tjader and his exceptional crew at the time -- guitarist Bob Redfield, keyboardist Clare Fischer, bassist Rob Fisher, conga player Poncho Sanchez and drummer Pete Riso -- delivered a couple fine live performances at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Cuban Fantasy is a satisfying snapshot of the two-night engagement. The album is a seamless mix of jazz, Latin and rock -- all woven together via seductive rhythms, engaging solo work and multi-layered arrangements in front of an engaged and appreciative crowd.

The eight-song set opens with a title track that is paradoxically hypnotic and lively at the same time, and builds to a powerful climax as Tjader switches from vibes to timbales. Other noteworthy tracks include the churning and fiery "Tamanco No Samba (Samba Blim)," which stirs the audience from the very early bars of the percussion intro, and the breezy rendition of Mongo Santamaria's "Tu Crees Que?"

Further in, "Silenciosa" is just what the title suggests, a quiet and introspective piece that carefully unfolds over seven and a half minutes. The free-for-all closer, "Guachi Guara" coalesces around Tjader's intricate staccato vibe riff and allows plenty of room for all personnel to stretch out and deliver generous solos.

Tjader's late-'70s lineup is considered one of his best. Cuban Fantasy is a long lost treasure that goes a long way in explaining why.

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