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Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings

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Album Review

Mary Stallings was just 22 at the time this album, her first, was cut in 1961. Fortunately, she was teamed up with a group of top professionals led by vibist Cal Tjader. She also sticks with mostly tried and true material, with Duke Ellington's songs getting a big play. Tjader is not a virtuoso on the vibes, but has made a name for himself because of his attachment to Latin rhythms. With no such music on this album, Tjader's playing seems somewhat stiff at times, particularly on ballads and slow blues. However, alternating pianists Lonnie Hewitt and Clare Fischer get with the program to give Stallings the backing she needs. The vibes player also loosens up on up-tempo tunes like "It Ain't Necessarily So." The singer has a powerful voice with a straight from the shoulder, no holds barred delivery. Her years singing in churches in San Francisco no doubt helped to develop her powerful style, and also give her some sympathy for such tunes as "God Bless the Child," which gets a particularly reverent reading. Paul Horn's flute helps make this a premier track. Stallings also makes good use of vibrato to emphasize a word or a phrase. This technique is used effectively on blues tunes such as "Mr. Blues." Stallings' dedication to pitch comes through on "Just Squeeze Me," where the bass is her only accompaniment. But some seasoning is needed. She sings everything with just about the same volume, paying no attention to dynamics. But all the equipment is there and, coupled with a natural affinity for the blues and swing, taking care of this matter should be no problem.


Born: 16 July 1925 in St. Louis, MO

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Cal Tjader was undoubtedly the most famous non-Latino leader of Latin jazz bands, an extraordinary distinction. From the 1950s until his death, he was practically the point man between the worlds of Latin jazz and mainstream bop; his light, rhythmic, joyous vibraphone manner could comfortably embrace both styles. His numerous recordings for Fantasy and Verve and long-standing presence in the San Francisco Bay Area eventually had a profound influence upon Carlos Santana, and thus Latin rock. He also...
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