Cal Tjader
Soul Sauce






Soul Sauce is a nine-track album by vibraphonist Cal Tjader (1925–1982) that is categorized as a Latin work, but believe me, the Latin structure is just the starting point for enchanting ameliorations and style-unrelated additions. Recorded in 1965 with a sextet and released on Verve Records, the vibraphonist intermixes Latin pieces with perfectly US-based gold standards and rounds the mélange off with both his own concoctions and a helping hand of his band mates. Stylistically, the album sits on the brink between the luminary’s Far Eastern albums such as Several Shades Of Jade (1963) and Breeze From The East (1964) on the one hand, and the adamantly amicable pre-Funk glitzscapes of Solar Heat (1968) on the other. This can only mean one thing: euphony, accessibility and gentleness.


This is still Latin music alright, but with Space-Age particles and Asian airflows: cascading echoes, cocktail lounge timbres and, as I keep saying, Tjaderisms in the shapes of polyphonic vibraphone flumes meet, mesh and depart ad infinitum, only stoppable by the listener or the songs’ time-related boundaries. Those who despise Tjader’s much more convoluted eclecticism and rapidly changing tone sequences of the 70’s will rejoice, as melodies and overtones are firmly embroidered throughout an album that is brought to life by Cal Tjader on the vibraphone (no marimba, xylophone or glockenspiel this time), drummer Johnny Rae, percussionists Alberto “Virgilio” Valdés and Armando Peraza, bassist John Hilliard as well as pianist Lonnie Hewitt. Topping the album off is the second track, a tune that is recorded with a different band. In the following paragraphs, I carve out why that track still feels right on this album and what else there is to love about the Exotica-inspired Soul Sauce.


The opener functions simultaneously as the title track: Soul Sauce is actually a rendition of Guachi Guaro which is originally co-written by Luciano Pozo Y Gonzales and John Birks Gillespie aka Dizzy. Fans of Cal Tjader who are also fond of his aforementioned Far East-centric monoliths will love this particular kick-off due to the overwhelmingly Asian vibraphone billows… on a Latin album, of all things! Latin “guachi guaro” chants, Lonnie Hewitt’s blazingly sun-dappled piano chords as well as croaking guiros and bongos which are draped in heavy reverberation make this one of Tjader’s catchiest renditions he ever accomplished during his career. Everything gleams, feels blurry and piercing at the same time, and this dualistic simultaneity lets Soul Sauce tower almightily above sea level. Even though the song is short and actually a mere ditty, the vibraphonist and his men manage to emend it with technicolor surfaces. A masterpiece stripped off its Latin roots.


The follow-up Afro-Blue, written by frequent Tjader collaborator Ramon “Mongo” Santamaria is something truly special as well, for it is taken from an entirely different recording session at the Rudy Van Gelder Studios. It still does not feel like an antibody in the endemic context, even though it features a different band and a much jazzier setup. Grady Tate is beating the bongos here, the percussion thicket is much wider, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath and trumpeter Donald Byrd create an excitingly semi-cacophonous euphony which is further spiced by Kenny Burrell seemingly disconnected electric guitar chords. Tjader’s vibe resides in the background and only comes closer in the centroid segue. This is a brass-focused African Jazz artifact in the tradition of Charlie Parker and exchanges melodies with cavalcades of surfaces.


Up next is Pantano, written by Lonnie Hewitt who drives his composition with gorgeously golden piano chords that are grafted onto John Hilliard’s double bass billows and both Alberto “Virgilio” Valdés’ and Armando Peraza’s percussion shrubbery. The piano detaches itself from the bassline later on and sparkles in a playful fashion around the fir-green timbre of Tjader’s vibes. The melody is hummable and hence very catchy. All instruments are used in order to create harmonies instead of eclecticism.


Following this afternoon action aire is Billy May’s and one-off Exotica luminary Milt Raskin’s Somewhere In The Night. It is the right choice and masterfully soothing. The slow rhythm and the echoey conga-and-bongo bubbles as well as the mystical moonlit vibe glissando make it possible to feast on the textures and interstices. Lonnie Hewitt’s carefully placed piano accentuations and Johnny Rae’s sizzling cymbals evoke the moon, the stars… and nothing else. Vibraphones often equal the moon in Exotica takes, and it is only consequent that Cal Tjader shines all the more vibrantly on this delicately ashen piece of carefreeness. Side A closes with percussionist Armando Peraza’s Maramoor Mambo, an outright uplifting sunscape of – who would have thought – Mambo rhythms, silver-tinged kettle drums and a kaleidoscope of heavily spiraling but equally memorable vibe-piano notes. Splendid to the max!


Side B opens with another composition by Lonnie Hewitt, the long-winded and surprisingly nebulous-aqueous Tanya. Sizzling maracas and staccato bongo vesicles provide the aorta of this upbeat piece which then puts its composer into the spotlight. Hewitt works on two levels here: he lets loose refreshingly plinking piano prongs and creates contravening chords of warmth. Tjader then takes over the higher piano parts and connects the dots via a fast-paced performance on the vibraphone which leaves enough room for contemplative moments where the signature instrument’s afterglow whirls around the effulgent panorama.


Cal Tjader’s and Lonnie Hewitt’s own Leyte then revisits the – now Filipino – pentatonicism for another time in one of the strongest takes. In this behemoth of seven and a half minutes, piano and vibe are always closely attached to each other. Whereas the piano remains dry and warm, the vibraphone glistens and gleams. The Bossa Nova intersection with the croaking guiros brings the melodies to Latin shores, the bongo soils remind of rain forests. Paradise is polymorphous. Whereas Lorenz Hart‘s and Richard RodgersSpring Is Here respects the writing duo’s original vision and only replaces the magnanimous strings with Tjader’s vibes but otherwise remains true to the tempo and easygoing, entirely positive soothingness, the final piece is Clare Fischer’s João which is a swinging life-affirming piece loaded with pointillistic pianos, oscillating vibes and sizzling shakers. A lofty end game for the album.


Soul Sauce is an enlightening album that gets rid of all antediluvian Latin clichés and lives up to the promise Tjader already delivered on his album Latin Kick (1956): the promise of synergetic effects, of fathoming out new styles by reuniting them with well-known archetypes and expected ingredients. In the case of both albums, it is the prominent inclusion of exotic, Latin percussion, but brass explosions or horn helixes are almost completely amiss in Soul Sauce, were it not for the inclusion of Afro-Blue, an arrangement and song close to Tjader’s heart that had to be included at all costs. Normally, I would be wary of its addition if it were to destruct the carefully built intrinsic mood range, instrumental pool and textural focus, but since there are many pentatonic faux-Asian tunes or sections on board which also work well in the given context, Soul Sauce does not suffer from the different band setup and style that is injected with Afro-Blue.


The strongest feature of the album is not even based on the vibraphone. Sure, it does play an important role, and Tjader skillfully plays it either to the point, in martelato or solemnically, so that its shooting star-like tail waters the surrounding layers, usually Lonny Hewitt’s piano tones. And granted, these tones are another boon. However, the implied big feature is not based on instruments but enchanting melodies! Tjader’s albums of the 50’s and 60’s feature superstructures of catchiness, be it renditions like Soul Sauce or the unique material brought in by his band mates such as Pantano and Maramoor Mambo. The album is available on vinyl, CD and digitally. Be sure to fetch the remastered disc which adds four bonus tracks, among them a rough version of two and a half minutes of Soul Sauce and a saxophone-augmented loungey Crime Jazz scheme called Ming


Exotica Review 289: Cal Tjader – Soul Sauce (1965). Originally published on Dec. 7, 2013 at