Saturday, May 1, 2010
Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Les Baxter- Tamboo! (1954)
When I was a younger man, I picked this record up at a waterside thrift store in Maine. I had heard Martin Denny's Exotica several times and it had begun to pique my interest in the genre, but I still had no idea who Les Baxter even was. Baxter, I now know, is basically the main genius of Exotica. At his best, he elevates the escapist vacation and musical tourism of of the genre to the level of sublime. It is the complexities of this, his best album, that initially made me believe in this type of music as an art beyond kitsch-- a notion I now can refute entirely.
Baxter was, at heart, an unpredictable experimentalist. And while no one could be too surprised at the kind of music to be found on Tamboo, dig a little deeper and you find unbelievably complex and delicate arrangements perhaps unlike anything else he has ever done. Cinematic, evocative, and lushly exotic with velvety strings, deep dark drums and scampering bongos, haunting flutes, and "native" instruments lurking in every shadow... ominous yet friendly vocal arrangements with that heads-of-Easter-Island sound, complemented by extremely white, lovely female harmonies, humming and ahh-ing with heart melting loveliness.
This is too good to be easy listening, too complex to be a musical vacation: this is a sonic adventure, exploring a mangrove swamp in a dugout canoe, a jeep caravan across the Serengeti, hunting Tigers in India, lounging with island girls, searching for Aztec idols... this is an amalgamation of the perfect journey through all lands exotic; India, Africa, South America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, all rolled into one cleverly forged piece of popular music for white American dads. This is a forgotten masterpiece, and the tip top of the genre.
Too bad: I've been asked to remove this link by the copyright owner. I highly encourage you to go buy this album or find it for yourself. It's out there, and it's worth the trouble.