Good Music We Can Know

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sophisticated Jungle Dreams of Exotica: Tak Shindo- Mbanga! (1958); Richard Hayman- Voodoo! (1959)


This record has one of the best cover designs in the Exotica canon-- it's also one of the better Exotica albums ever made, and it's by Tak Shindo, a musicologist and expert in Japanese instrumentation. It's not nearly as satisfying, but it's actually fairly similar in texture to Les Baxter's Tamboo! (well-known to be my favorite), especially in terms of vocal arrangements, but with a few more moments of abstract space and atmospheric ponderousness among the decidedly more lurid and savage drum segments. This is Jungle Exotica at its most evocative; it will take you through the black hot night with nothing but torchlight and a man-eater on your trail, but it will also posit you atop a mountain to survey the sunrise vistas with surreal calm. A little bit of Voodoo, a little bit of Safari.

A must have, though sadly at a 160 rip. Let a fellow know if you can serve up an upgrade.

MGANGA!




Richard Hayman has here mustered his phenomenally versatile talents as musician,
arranger and conductor to capture the mood of voodoo in songs whose very titles
can strike awe in the listener: Conjuration . . . Spell of Deatra . . . Incantation . . .
Zombi. . . Midnight Ritual. . . Gris-Gris. Here is a musical adventure that transports
you into the deepest interior of Haiti. Here is the fearsome fire and the brewing pot.
Here are the frightening shadows. And here, above all, are the weird rhythms and
sounds of a music that is more than music because it is distilled in ritual and there
are those who believe in its magical powers.
This is music to be met half-way in a quiet room with the lights dimmed. Or better still
meet it all the way in the still of the night with the lights out. Then Listen!

You're not alone any longer. The room is shaken with the frantic dances of the
hungans - so-called priests of voodoo - and their faithful. The cauldron boils and
froths. The walls echo to the cries and the wails of the believers.

That's voodoo!

That's from the back of the record. It's all true.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sophisticated Sleep-Dream of Exotica: Henry Mancini- The Versatile Henry Mancini (1957)


Positively wonderful Exotica for Eveningtime. Sleepy, lush, and well-played (specific mention ought be made of guitarist Laurindo Almeida and whoever is doing vocals). This is about as white as exotica gets, but it's nonetheless great. It's one of those records that has one foot in popular instrumentals/space-age pop and one foot in Exotica Proper, but it's really a treasure of its kind, and doesn't feel watered-down at all. It's not gonna be as freaky as Denny or Baxter, but it's still awesome... hell, man, Mancini is pretty awesome. You know this: "Peter Gunn", "Charade" "Hatari"-- Mancini is a brilliant fixture. This is his first record.

THE VERSATILE HENRY MANCINI

Our Children Can Achieve Excellence at Blue Note: Ornette Coleman- The Empty Foxhole (1966)


In 1966, the inimitable Ornette Coleman returned from a lengthy recording hiatus to record The Empty Foxhole, playing with a trio comprised of longtime collaborator Charlie Haden on bass, himself, and his 10-year-old son Denardo on drums. That latter player becomes the line in the sand for lovers and haters of this record-- exacerbated by the fact that Coleman himself only plays his famous sax on I think two of the cuts here-- and spends the rest of the time experimenting with violin and trumpet.

Either that grabs you or it don't, buddy, but for my part the proposition of a 10-year-old drummer on an avant-garde jazz record is a solidly promising one. When at the local jazz festival, I regularly spend more time watching kids play the drums at the Kid's Tent and Drum Petting Zoo than listening to old-timers jazz up 50 Cent songs in an attempt to stay relevant... it's easy to see who has more rhythmic invention, joy of discovery, and spirit of experimentation in this scenario, and it ain't the Jazz Dads in porkpie hats playing Wynton Marsalis cuts.

Anyway, I think Denardo actually sounds great here-- loose and childlike for sure, but focused and clever all the same. And he clearly seems to be energizing his father, whose relative inexperience on violin and trumpet serves as a fascinating foil to his son's youthful exuberance and naivete. The violin tracks may not be anybody's favorite, as the style is pretty fucking primitive (and certainly dissonant and/or "grating" to some degree), but they're fine or good at least. The saxophone tracks are, as you might expect, quite solid, but the winners here are the trumpet selections. According to, I guess, "jazz lore," Coleman's somewhat unpracticed trumpet playing supposedly caused Miles Davis to assume it was Don Cherry playing-- and whatever he actually meant by that (the prick), it's really an interesting observation, and ultimately a good enough reason as any to tune into this record (that is, if you're a fan of Cherry's blowing, and why shouldn't you be?).

The obvious candidate for best selection on the album is the title track, where Denardo's drums are at their most stumblingly emphatic, stabbing the composition with a drunkard's military march, as his father Cherries to the rafters and Haden holds it down like a scientist with creeping, loping, up-and-down bass work... it's a bit of a perfect moment, one the rest of the record can't quite match. But it alone makes the LP a must-hear, and a beautiful debut for Denardo Coleman, who went on to be a fabulous drummer with an excellent career, often as his father's collaborator.

THE EMPTY FOXHOLE

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sophisticated Hallucination of an Exotic Brazil- Pedro Santos- Krishnanda (1968)


This is one of the most arresting records I've heard in a long time. Wow. I haven't been able to scratch up a lot of information about this little Brazilian masterpiece or its creator but all information (or lack thereof) seems rendered irrelevant in the face of such elegant, surprising, and beautiful music.

There's a lot going on here: experimental Brazilian pop, heaping helpings of Exotica styles and instrumentation, a touch of Indian pop instrumental (a la Bollywood funk meets Ananda Shankar), a shot at Couleur Café-era serge Gainsbourg, and a psychedelic kinship with Library artists (Roger Roger and Nino Nardini's Jungle Obsession comes to mind)... but all of that is just grasping for a touchstone with which to describe a really very unique record.

And it is very unique, and very inventive, in just about every moment contained in the record. There's a song that uses the sound of water as a rhythm instrument. Oh wow, it really is a fantastic record. Fans of Lula Côrtes e Ze Ramalho's Paêbirú will absolutely need this record, and all the Exotica junkies ought to try it, as well. It is basically an experimental Brazilian Exotica record with a throbbing, transcendent streak of creativity and passion. Let's just call it a must-have. Let's just call it a masterpiece. Let's just recognize in it the glory of music, and revel in the delight of its gifts.

Let me know, if you would, if you can improve on this 192 rip.

KRISHNANDA

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Strawberry Growing in the Sand: Damon- Song of A Gypsy (1969)


This is, or was, one of the rarest psychedelic collector's items and a highly sought-after piece of vinyl, fetching prices to rival a prince's ransom... now, thanks to the internet, you don't have to be a bounty hunter to at least hear this mythical slice of psychedelia (good luck finding a physical copy to clutch).

So then, with the rareness of it deflated by the callous ease of internet availability, how's the music? What is the quality? How to answer... well, it's cool. Song after song of Damon's deep mystic croon, psych-folk lyrics so simple and right, and a razor-sharp scimitar of deep ripping fuzz raga guitar. It's a recipe for a good song-- one Damon employs for every song. So the album falls a bit short of any kind of "lost masterpiece" status, at least to my mind-- it's so limited and repetitive.

But it achieves its claim to greatness there, rising to the top of the grand rubbish pile of "psychedelic" albums that exist simply to embody an aspect of the "psychedelic" and little more. The content, style, and purpose of this and so many albums can be summed up thusly: It Is Psychedelic. Every song on here is precisely this, a perfect archetype (right down to the vague/familiar lyrics that are so unremarkable they achieve transcendence), but it should be noted that it's not particularly trippy. Much like Jefferson Airplane's tepid vision of psychedelia, which slaps raga and fuzz guitar on nonsensical ("surreal" if we are generous) folk-style songs, Damon too is making fairly normal songs feel a bit weirder than they actually are. I think, at least on some level he's much more successful than the Airplane, though not as varied in his approach, for both better and worse.

I'm afraid I may have talked in a little circle about this record but let me say again what I've said before: not only do I like it a lot, I also like it better than Surrealistic Pillow.

SONG OF A GYPSY

Friday, July 2, 2010

With A Chihuahua in His Hand, He Conducted Our Dreams of Exotica: Xavier Cugat- Viva Cugat! (1961)


A friend of mine just hipped me to Xavier Cugat and his saucy, cartoonish rhumba/Exotica album, Viva Cugat! If you have never heard of Mr. Cugat, do yourself a quick and entertaining favor and check out his wikipedia article. This dude is a nut and a knucklehead from the day... he's basically the original Perez Prado, for one thing, as well as sort of the main fellow of Latin music from the 40s through to the 60s. His fourth wife was Charo, of all people, and he was known for conducting orchestra while cradling a chihuahua in his arms. A first class Character, and a former cartoonist to boot. Just like Fellini.

This album is prototypical, or at least typical, Latin-flavored Exotica, a 50's/60's trend we find Cugat getting in on-- interestingly, both as its grandfatherly progenitor and as a carpetbaggin' jumper of the bandwagon. Heavy on Rhumba, Mambo, and Conga, with big drums and bold brass, the album has that hard swingin' Latin sound but it's actually most interesting for its dreamier, string-drenched numbers-- such as the nearly perfect "Jungle Drums," "Poinciana," and a wonderful rendition of "Perfidia". The latter being a song which was a big hit for Cugat in the 40s. Viva Cugat! finds him returning to "Perfidia" 20 years later, and it's an achingly gorgeous revisitation.

If you are a fellow or lady with an Exotica addiction, you will likely feel inclined to slam some gooey Cugat into your brains. This is a great record.

Viva! CUGAT! (192)



The fine friend who got me to know this record has started a Tumblr called "MENTAL TOOTSCAPES." Their mission is to sort through the "bad" of new age culture and present what they find interesting. Doubtless such a treasure chest may be of interest to some readers here, so check it out. I will see you there, old chums.
http://mentaltootscapes.tumblr.com/