Sunday, May 2, 2010
Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Les Baxter- Ritual of the Savage (1952), Sacred Idol (1960)
In an early post I expressed my passion for Les Baxter and wrote of what I feel to be his finest album, Tamboo! The only album capable of contesting the supremacy of Tamboo! is here, Les Baxter's first masterpiece of Exotica: Ritual of the Savage. This album marks the de facto birth of the genre, the truest moment of its invention, the alchemical synthesis of all its parts and prototypes into the golden, perfect thing. Just read the back cover notes below, and you will see an inadvertent yet self-assured manifesto for the genre. I'd quote it, but it's so perfect, you'll just have to see for yourself.
This record contains the original, often if not always superior, versions of many of the songs made famous by Martin Denny on his seminal early Exotica albums ("Quiet Village" being the most famous), but Denny's small band and more simple style can't quite compete with the intricate, masterful complexity of Mr. Baxter'-- and when hearing this album you know the songs belong to him alone. What Baxter invents here, in a pure and perfect form, I think he actually takes to an even more interesting level on Tamboo!, but if you only snag two Baxter albums, it is Tamboo! and Ritual of the Savage, the visionary blueprints for the whole of Exotica.
Update, 'cause I been thinking: Go back to the top of the post and click the cover of Ritual to enlarge. Look at the couple dancing in the background. I always thought they were dancing in an almost impossibly romantic fashion, the elegance and soft-focus of the paint contrasting the harder, more graphically rendered masks. But look at the body language: what I thought was his fluttering tie is actually her hand, flat on his chest, possibly pushing away. Her other hand grasping his arm tightly, her head thrust away from him, her mouth twisted with startled distaste as he leans in insistently, pulling her in to him by the waist. What is going on here? Is there any way they are just dancing pleasantly? Is this what is meant by the ritual of the savage?
Sorry to say, but I've been asked to remove this link by the copyright owner. This album is available in its entirety on the free market, so go get it. Or just look a little harder on the internet and get it that way, you deadbeat.
SACRED IDOL: "Strange and exotic music keyed to the mysterious legends of The Feathered Serpent of the Aztecs, from the motion picture The Sacred Idol."
Similar in sound to Tamboo!, with a darker overall palette and lots of vocal arrangements. Not as good-- it's less rich and varied, the recording quality is a bit murky, and the melodies are far less catchy. Still, this is sublime work from Baxter.
The beauty of Exotica is that, despite the colonial condescension that comes with indiscriminately appropriating vaguely ethnic rhythms and calling it "exotic," it seems to celebrate inclusively an international paradise of peace, sensuality, and exploration... this is not World Music, friends, it's just Music for the World.
I've also been asked to take this down, which is a shame, because I don't think this record is available in its original form or at a reasonable price. Use the internet to make this right for yourself. Someone else has it, I'm sure, in its intended form, and ripped from decent vinyl. Go look.