Monday, September 5, 2011
Classical Exotica From the Depths of the Sleepy Lagoon: Edmond De Luca's Safari (1957); Stanley Black- The Music of Lecuona (1958)
Here are two records that I own on vinyl, but for some time have been unable to obtain a rip of (quality or otherwise-- these puppies are for some reason hopelessly obscure). That is, until recently. After the princely German gentleman and fellow Exotica proselytizer from The Sleepy Lagoon answered my call for Stanley Black's The Music of Lecuona-- and was then able to again make dreams come true with Arthur Lyman's Legend of Pele-- I figured I'd ask him if he had a rip of another Holy Grail desire of mine, Edmond De Luca's Safari. He did.
I'm so delighted to get a chance to enthuse on the subject of Safari. Unfortunately, I can't find much information on it, so all I have to work with is my emotions. Like many records of its ilk, I bought it primarily for its utterly marvellous cover art, but fortunately found the musical contents to be easily the art's equal.
Falling more on the classical/symphonic side of the spectrum, side one is a suite detailing the stages of an African safari and hunt. It's pure Rudyard Kipling adventure fantasy, laid out with orchestral arrangements of the maximum cinematic variety (especially evident in the dizzying heights of the strings and occasional call-to-arms/begin-the-hunt horns), and adorned generously with the sort of faux-African male vocals found on Tak Shindo's Mganga! or Les Baxter's Taboo! I cannot speak highly enough of this record's first side. It's a wonderful marriage of Exotica, 1950's epic film soundtrack, and the kind of classical, proto-Exotica ideas found in something like Sir Eugen Goossens Corroboree (or Ravel, or Dvorak, or Lecuona, whom we'll get to).
Side two is mostly one long composition, "Polovetsian Dances", followed by a shorter one, "Ritual Fire Dance"-- the latter being especially stellar. Despite losing the African backdrop in favor of something more Eastern European/Russian, the treatment and sensibility is similar. These are sensual folk-tradition-inspired orchestra pieces somewhat in the manner of Bolero, and they're really quite enjoyable. It's a bit of a step down from the evocative narrative, exotic geography, and epic cinematic quality of side one, but still more than worthy of inclusion in your collection.
This download, once again courtesy of the unbelievably generous spirit of The Sleepy Lagoon, is at a "blistering" 224kbps. Beautiful.
As is indicated by the title, this LP consists of the talented and versatile Stanley Black conducting the compositions of the amazing Mr. Ernesto Lecuona.
I don't know, and can't find, all that much about Lecuona, although I'm not a particularly thorough researcher. He's an incredibly gifted and influential composer, however, and he deserves a grander reputation than he currently enjoys. Certainly amongst Exotica lovers, his compositions are as familiar as a father: "Siboney" "Malaguena" "Andalucia" (also kniwn as "The Breeze and I"), "Canto Karabali" (better known as "Jungle Drums", and clearly amongst the three or four most major defining compositions of Exotica)-- and to a slightly lesser extent the Academy Award-nominated "Always In My Heart"-- have all been recorded countless times by bandleaders and musicians looking to assemble an Exotica record. (It's also worth noting, at this point, that his cousin, Margarita Lecuona, composed the stalwart Exotica masterpiece "Taboo." Fun Fact, I guess.)
Stanley Black plays all these compositions, and more, in a style that's lushly, softly Exotic, without dressing up the intrinsic beauty of the compositions too unnecessarily. Lecuona's mixture of early-20th century pop-orchestral music, classical European symphonic tradition, and Cuban folk rhythms don't need much retrofitting to come off as absolutely classic Exotica anyway. This type of cross-cultural musical alchemy is basically what Exotica is, making him one of the earlier and more significant visionaries of this art. That his compositions are among the most well-known, yet his name and legacy aren't particularly, is a funny little oversight of history. One thing is sure: this record is a journey into the heart of beauty, one of the more perfect things you could ever hope to hear. Please enjoy.
MUSIC OF LECUONA (192)