It's somewhat unfair to peg Cal Tjader's 1960s albums as "lounge" or "space-age pop." Artists who most often come to mind when these contempo-retro terms are used today are Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Tjader's vibes and the types of albums he recorded in the '60s were more sophisticated and jazzy than the typical umbrella-drink albums that exotica artists cranked-out.
Yet Tjader's output during this period certainly belongs in the pop camp—perhaps jazz-pop would be closer to the mark. One album that is a perfect antidote to the recent heat here on the East Coast of the U.S. is Breeze From the East. Recorded for Verve in November 1963, three days after the assassination of President Kennedy, the album featured Jerry Dodgion (fl), Cal Tjader (vib), Dick Hyman (org), Lonnie Hewitt (p), Stan Applebaum (celeste,arr,dir), two unknown guitarists, George Duvivier (b) and an unknown drummer and timbales player.
What places this album a cut above the standard bachelor-pad fare is the merging of hip go-go beats with smart jazz instrumentation. The date's arranger was Stanley Applebaum, who orchestrated many of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's hits with the Drifters and Ben E. King in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including There Goes My Baby, Spanish Harlem and Stand By Me.
But the charts on Breeze From the East are quite unlike Applebaum's earlier R&B frames. Here, he takes artistic risks by building sly and playful instrumental textures, such as teaming Tjader's vibes with Dick Hyman's groovy organ. Or placing the vibes against gong cymbals and Hewitt's cool and funky block-chord piano attack that includes a Sidewinder-y riff. Interestingly, The Sidewinder would be recorded in the same studio just weeks later by Lee Morgan.
Every tune on this album has a South-Seas-meets-Birdland feel, leveraging a complex cocktail of dreamy adult pop and sophisticated cinematic and discotheque touches. Standards like Star Dust, Poinciana and East of the Sun are given this treatment. So are smart originals by Applebaum including Sake and Greens, Cha and Shoji.
Which brings us to the album's appealing twist: The tracks all were arranged with bossa, go-go beats ornamented by Asian scales and percussion. Given the Far East premise, the album's results are as savvy as they are fascinating. What you hear are the types of songs that were written into James Bond movies when Double-0 Seven is pulled into doing the Watusi with a stunner at a Tokyo or Shanghai disco. [Pictured above and below: Cal Tjader]
Highly sophisticated stuff? Well, it's not exactly Gary McFarland or Oliver Nelson. But it's extremely dynamic and an ideal way to offset excessive humidity. I also can tell you that Breeze From the East goes great with air conditioning and a tall iced tea filled with square cubes and crushed mint.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Cal Tjader's Breeze From the East teamed with Tjader's Several Shades of Jade, arranged by Lalo Schifrin, on a two-fer that's available as a CD or download at Amazon here. Breeze From the East starts with track #10.
JazzWax clip: Here's Cha from Breeze From the East...