This record lacks some of the fire of his Prestige work in the years leading up to this, with the ballads being a little too saccharine-flavored for me, but there are some real cookers on here too. Serengeti is an aural safari. The one Tjader original, Mambo Mindoro, is a natural centerpiece, with Poncho Sanchez on fire throughout, and also notable for its brevity as it comes in at slightly under four minutes. I’m rather fond of the very creative, liberal interpretation of the Edu Lobo/Ruy Guerra composition Aleluia. Of the slower numbers, I enjoy the Johnny Mercer tune “I Remember You” here, with the Rhodes giving just enough gritty texture to balance the sweetness, and a nice jazz flute solo that could only have been improved if Roger Glenn had played it shirtless like Herbie Mann. Mark Levine contributes a quietly smoldering original descarga jam in Linda Chicana, and the album ends on a high note with a composition from former Tjader band member João Donato, Sabor.
“La Onda Va Bien” apparently kicked off the “Picante” sublabel of Concord Records. Like all Concord releases the sound quality is flawless – and that’s not always great, because I like a few flaws in both recordings and performances to keep it interesting. Too much of the Concord catalog is so slick that it becomes sonic wallpaper. But Tjader and Company carry off a laid-back, final-set-of-the-evening-at-3 a.m. feeling here. This 80s-era CD pressing sounds stellar too, extremely warm with a ton of dynamic range. If you’re new to Cal Tjader this might not be the place to start, but it’s a very solid album.