Classical Echoes: Feldman, Tjader and Aguabella
“ 'Love for Sale' starts out as the Cole Porter classic but ends up a smoking Afro-Cuban jam. ”
In December 1958, Victor Feldman – pianist, percussionist, and vibes player – began work on a project as a leader for Contemporary records. He continued work on this project for nearly a year, ultimately recording two different quintets plus a ten-piece unit with contributions from bassists Al McKibbon and Scott LaFaro, soloists Walter Benton (tenor sax), Conte Candoli (trumpet), and Frank Rosolino (trombone), pre- Peanuts pianist Vince Guaraldi, and the best percussion ensemble in the history of jazz: The triple threat of Willie Bobo, Armando Peraza and Mongo Santamaria – George Shearing’s percussion section.
“I tried to blend straightforward arrangements in the Latin and Afro-Cuban vein with the improvisations of the jazz soloists,” Feldman said of his first Latin jazz set, “and it seems to me that Conte Candoli, Walter Benton and Frank Rosolino play with the swinging pulsation that they normally would with regular piano, bass, and drums rhythm.” The resultant Latinsville! (Contemporary) album is now reissued by Fantasy, including five previously unreleased tracks.
As a soloist, Feldman whisks through his ending to “Flying Down to Rio,” then his mid-song feature in “Cuban Pete” swings very deeply in Bags’ (Milt Jackson’s) bag. He also dances brilliantly against the amazingly timed percussion melody of “Cuban Love Song.”
But the musicianship of the other musicians – the percussionists and horn / brass soloists in particular, but also the bass and piano players – play as large a part in the excellence of this music as Feldman does. For example, as you’d expect, the three horn players, particularly Candoli, shine in Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody’N You,” sound-surfing along the rhythm churned by the percussionists. “In A Little Spanish Town” rocks to its foundation from the percussionists, too.
Like this Gillespie tune, a previously unreleased alternate take of “Poinciana” is more jazz than Latin, very different from the version released on the original Latinsville! set. It’s straight-up quintet jazz quintet sans percussionists, driven both in support and as a soloist by bassist LaFaro, whose rhythm somehow sounds so essential and who solos as smooth and rich as the deepest, darkest chocolate.
Feldman would later work with Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, who recorded Feldman’s composition as the title track for his Seven Steps to Heaven album in 1963.
The Shearing bands with Willie, Armando, and Mongo also featured Cal Tjader. After his time with Shearing, Tjader employed his drums, timbales, percussion and vibes as a longstanding pillar of the San Francisco jazz scene. Bobo and Santamaria would later realign with Tjader in some of these bands. So did Guaraldi, whose dancing, crystalline piano style served the Latin idiom well, especially in the context of Tjader’s chiming vibes and shimmering rhythms.
About two decades after Feldman entered the studio for Contemporary, Tjader recorded this performance at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. Though Cuban Fantasy (Fantasy) moves forward in jazz two decades from Feldman’s time of Broadway, ballads, blues and bop to electric jazz and fusion, like Latinsville! it remains consistent with the instrumentation and devices of its time. Trumpet, trombone and saxophone are gone as solo instruments, replaced by Bob Redfield’s electric guitar and keyboards from Clare Fischer. Bassist Rob Fisher, drummer Pete Riso, and conguero / percussionist Poncho Sanchez complete this ensemble.
Cuban Fantasy bursts open with the electric adventurous spirit of jazz fusion: Instead of a dozen songs generally between three to five minutes in length, the time standard during the era of Feldman’s set, it presents eight tracks between six and thirteen minutes long (“in concert” helps this feeling along, too). “Guarabe” exudes this spirit, cycling upon an electric piano riff, underscored by the hop, skip n’ jumping drum pattern, that serves as launching pad for spacey explorations by the guitarist and pianist. It is so loose that it doesn’t really seem to have an ending, the band sort of just stops playing it. “Manuel Deeghit” also jams on a riff hung upon its rhythmic backbone supple yet strong as a python. Tjader digs deeps into his Milt “Bags” Jackson bag, fluid and bluesy, here.