Sunday, October 31, 2010
The Arch-Duke of Exotica: A Martin Denny Barrage
FORBIDDEN ISLAND (1958)
So begins this deluxe Martin Denny post. If you haven't heard his seminal Exotica records, Exotica I, II, and III, then by all fucking means, sir or lady, get and hear them. They are among the most prototypical sounds of the genre, and should be considered essential. This post is dedicated to the best of the rest of his early albums, which find ways to slightly (ever so slightly, usually) deviate from the small-combo soft-jazz+"exotic"-instrument formula of his Exotica records. This is his weirdest and most fun stuff.
Forbidden Island might as well be called Exotica 2.5, but it does squeak in some insane compositions, the luridly middle-eastern "Cobra" being the most arresting. Needless to say, this being Denny in his prime, the music here is stunningly gorgeous. Definitely a must-have. 320 rip.
Again, this record is pretty much straight out of Denny's usual playbook (perhaps more so than the previous, which has an Arabic tinge throughout), but it's so thoroughly excellent that it merits the highest regards. Not just more of the same, this is more of the Mega-Same. If anything, the bird calls that are a staple of Denny recordings are even more insane on this record, and every track is a classic. Also, dig this sublime cover, featuring Sandy Warner ("The Exotica Girl"), the model whom Denny would use for most of his early album covers. Her face and bust are as associated with Exotica as bird calls and Tiki masks. 192 rip.
This one starts to get pretty strange, exploring a sonic palette slightly darker and trippier than the usual Denny outing. An attempt at opium hallucination exotica, and the tracks are fat with sweet smelling smoke and languid sex. It gets a little goofy from time to time, but it thankfully finds Mr. Denny doing some welcome experimenting. Essential, as you might expect. 192 rip.
Here we find Ms. Warner posing as a blonde (the natural choice for this more African-leaning record, of course). This record contains one of my favorite compositions and an Exotica standard, "Baia." Also, the off-the-rails crazy "Swamp Fire," and "Ma'Chumba," with its loony, delightful vocals. Look, here's the thing about a good early Denny record: All the songs are always good. All the songs here are so fucking good. 320 rip.
QUIET VILLAGE (1959)
"Quiet Village" is one of the most famous and most oft-recorded compositions in the Exotica canon, a shady slice of paradise and a deceptively simple piece of perfection. Les Baxter wrote it, but Denny found a lot of success with it as well. This is not the first time he would record it (or the last), but this record, named after the tune, is a typically strong showing from an unusually consistent master. 256 rip.
THE ENCHANTED SEA (1960)
Here we find Denny and his crew in a fairly sedate mode (and Ms. Warner both wet and brunette again), lushly and sleepily describing the seductive calm of the titular enchanted sea. It doesn't quite achieve this task as well as Les Baxter's similar effort, Jewels of the Sea, and the small-combo doesn't pull off the necessary depth of lushness in the way Baxter's orchestra can, but it is a very nice collection of soothing sounds. There's some nice brush-on-cymbals work, emulating the sound of waves. Good VBR rip.
EXOTIC PERCUSSION (1961)
After 1961, Denny would create many other tunes worth hearing, but Exotic Percussion is one of the last truly great albums of his career. Creating 10 or more stone-cold classics, chock-a-block with great songs and great instrumentation, in a period of just a few years is a staggering feat. Denny is more than just an American saint, he is also an international angel.
This record is about what you'd expect, which is very good (and at a nice VBR rip). Add all these records to what is hopefully a growing Exotica library.