When trumpeter Herb Alpert made a splash in the mid-1960s with his Tijuana Brass, there was a sense among some so-called hip jazz listeners that this was music for squares, kind of like Burt Kaempfert playing mariachi. Given that 1962 was the year that Miles cut Quiet Nights
and Sun Ra and Albert Ayler were stretching ears and expanding minds, The Lonely Bull
wasn’t exactly turning heads. Likewise, when Whipped Cream and Other Delights
hit in 1965, the buzz in the jazz world was that Trane released three major recordings in Ascension
and Kulu Se Mama
, and that Herbie Hancock’s landmark Maiden Voyage
had finally been released to overwhelming popular and critical acclaim. In 1964, the year that Alpert’s South of the Border
LP hit the stores, John Coltrane’s classic My Favorite Things
was hands down the most popular album on the streets of jazzland. Still, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass were the buzz above ground, past that rarified subterranean jazz world of the 1960s. Listening to these albums now I’m struck with the musicality of the discs. It isn’t earth shattering and it wasn’t mind stretching. It is just what it was always meant to be. Exciting, fun music. It must have struck a chord with the pop music public. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass were the fourth best selling artists of the 1960s, after Elvis, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. As a teenager in the mid 1960s, I was swept up in the excitement and these re-issues are a reminder of how much fun the music was. The title cut is one of the most recognizable instrumental numbers of all time with its audience roar and majestic trumpet regalia.
When The Lonely Bull, the debut disc from Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass and the first album released on the fledgling A&M Records (Alpert and Jerry Moss’s new company) was released, it was an immediate smash, largely based on the title tune. Jazz fans will note that the version of "Desifinado" included here is first rate, though there is much more to appeal to fans of well executed music: The gorgeous voicings on "El Lobo (The Wolf)" and the waltz version of "Never On A Sunday" in particular. There are many novelty tunes, such as the heavy German polka of "Tijuana Sauerkraut," the time freeze "Acapulco 1922," and the radio hit "Mexico," again with that heavy, heavy downbeat. The version of "Let It Be Me" is superbly rendered, with strings, voices, and mandolin in the mix. Alpert’s solo is first rate on this, as his playing is throughout.
The Tijuana Brass was a mystery aggregation on this debut disc. They were studio players who included the Ventures drummer Mel Taylor and Sun studios guitarist Bill Riley among their number. It’s unfortunate that, even now, those players are not identified. In Josh Kun’s extensive liners Alpert admits that he never listened to Mexican music and it is revealed that he’s not Mexican, as many assumed. Myths fall by the wayside.