This extraordinary recording by a group, ostensibly put together by the conguero Frankie Piñeiro, was meant to celebrate the music of the legendary Latin-Jazz vibraphonist and drummer, Cal Tjader. The recording was made in 2013. Its release as ¡Viva Cal! has also become a sort of memorial to Kenny Drew Jr (June 14, 1958 – August 3, 2014), a pianist who was proficient in both the Jazz and the Afro-Caribbean musical dialects. Putting Mr Drew at the centre of this music is a stroke of genius on the part of Frankie Piñeiro as it puts the spotlight on his pianism which is often forgotten in the melée of the music of everyday life. But equally importantly, it celebrates the music of Cal Tjader, not only represented by four outstanding compositions, but also by the one tune that contributed to his legendary status among his peers who included Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Willie Bobo, and that is “Soul Sauce”, also called by its nonsense name, “Guachi Guara” when Mr Tjader first played it with Willie Bobo.
The onerous task filling Cal Tjader’s big shoes was given to Cole Hazlitt, a young vibraphonist who not only performs with distinction, but also brings the unfettered swing of Mr Tjader’s music back to life again. His masterful use of mallets, crisp attack that makes for sparkling, resonances notes and phrases redolent of silvery, ultra-cool and lyrical clave that once leapt from the tubes of Cal Tjader’s instrument.
The spirit of Mr. Tjader’s unfettered joyful musicianship is also enhanced by Frankie Piñeiro, who not only pronounces the magic words, “Guachi Guara” but then proceeds to mix the “Soul Sauce” and spice it up as only his masterful hands can. Of course, the icing on this elaborate cake is Kenny Drew Jr. This pianist displays the legendary bass line tumbao ingenuity that moved joyfully through the nerves and out through the fingers of his left hand, while his right hand roamed the rest of the keyboard inventing beautifully improvised arabesques as if by magic.
The rest of the ensemble including bassist Joe Porter, the celebrated bongosero, Hector Mayoral, timbalero John Jenkins and percussionist Abel Feria make not just important contributions to the rhythmic ornamentation, but do so with organic beauty. Each of the musicians quite literally feels the joy of Cal Tjader through the music and it shows on songs such as “Viva Cepeda”, “Mamblues” and Claire Fischer’s “Morning”. And it is this ‘spiritual’ connection with Cal Tjader that seems to lift the music into a rarefied realm, where all great Cal Tjader music is, and will always be.
Track list – 1: East of the Sun; 2: Alonzo; 3: Soul Sauce (Guachi-Guara); 4: Viva Cepeda; 5: Fugi; 6: Tumbao; 7: Morning; 8: Mamblues; 9: Cuban Fantasy; 10: Maria Cervantes; 11: Have You Met Miss Jones.
Personnel – Kenny Drew Jr: piano; Cole Hazlitt: vibraphone; Joe Porter: bass; Hector Mayoral: bongo, cowbell, chekere and vocals; John Jenkins: timbales and drum set; Frankie Piñeiro: conga drums; Abel Feria: güiro.
Released – 2017
Label – Independent
Runtime – 1:15:03