Cal Tjader Plays Harold Arlen/West Side Story

by: Cal Tjader

Two Tjader albums recorded in 1960, Cal Tjader Plays Harold Arlen and West Side Story, are combined on one CD on this 2002 reissue. Using two separate backup trios on Cal Tjader Plays Harold Arlen, Tjader took on 11 Harold Arlen songs (actually all songs that he co-wrote) for these two days of mid-1960 sessions, with "Over the Rainbow" and "Blues in the Night" being the most well known of those. On the first six tracks, he's backed by Buddy Motsinger on piano, Al McKibbon on bass, and Willie Bobo on drums. On the other five, Motsinger remains while bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Johnny Rae become the rhythm section; a string section on harp augments these five tracks as well. Although these are well-crafted interpretations, the constant ballad tempos and languorous mood get sluggish taken one after the other. Clare Fischer's tense orchestral arrangements actually add a bit of wakeup spice to the latter part of the program, even as they heighten the sentimentality factor in some respects. West Side Story also employs orchestral Fischer arrangements, this time the whole way through. It's not the best envisioning of the classic musical, but it's OK. Tjader's vibes seem more appropriate for some tracks -- the jazzier ones, naturally, like "The Jet Song" and "Cool" -- than the more melodramatic ones. Mongo Santamaria's conga is heard on "Tonight," one of the better numbers, as well as "America," though some portions of the original score were omitted from the overall interpretation. ~ Richie Unterberger

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