Sunday, April 29, 2012
Excruciatingly Gorgeous Nocturnal Exotica: Les Baxter- Caribbean Moonlight (1956)
Don't let the cover fool you. It almost fooled me once... I spotted it in a record store years ago, and the tame art, juxtaposed against all the shrunken heads, stone gods, and island women of the Exotica bin, almost turned me off. What turned me back on was a very low price (unusual for the Exotica bin of that particular store) and very good condition vinyl. I thought, what the hell it's Baxter it can't be too bad and went home relatively unexcited.
There are three truly great Les Baxter records, gods among giants: 1951's Ritual of the Savage (the Exotica manifesto, the first masterpiece of its kind), 1956's Tamboo! (my personal favorite, a stunning work of genius), and Caribbean Moonlight. Moonlight may not have the full scope and thrilling adventure of the other two, but it's just as consistent, and if anything it's almost more mysterious and atmospheric. Actually, it does an interesting thing: where Ritual is adventurous and playful, and Tamboo! is a plunge into the depths of the jungles, Moonlight is more of a vacation album, very serene and luxurious-- and yet it's dark as a tiger's shadow, and hazy as the black lagoon at new moon... a warm evening with a cool mist and hairs raised on end. This is music for midnight ride, or a late-night party at a coastal mansion (you know- you're in a white tuxedo, champagne in hand, and you step out onto a massive deck overlooking the moonlit cove and suavely tell Ingrid Bergman or Grace Kelly that she has to sleep with a Nazi, or that you know where to find her jewels... while Caribbean Moonlight spills into the night from the ballroom behind you, like ink spreading into water). As sensual as slow-motion hypnotism, and so sophisticated and lush it almost conveys a sense of dread.
There's a lot of Exotica standards and other all-too-familiars on here: "Taboo", "The Breeze and I" "Poinciana", "Temptation", even "Sway". That doesn't have to be a bad thing (I for one, always appreciate a Lecuona composition, at least), but it could give you the impression that this is one of many familiar-sounding, somewhat typical Exotica records. It is not so. Despite half the songs being as common within the Exotica canon as Herb Alpert records are in the one-dollar bin, Caribbean Moonlight remains an utterly enchanting, unique-feeling record, from beginning to end. "Sway" is actually a major highlight. At 32 minutes, five seconds, this record's only flaw is that it's woefully brief. There's not a bad second here. If you only ever get a little fistful of Exotica records, this should be one of them. Completely sublime.
Caribbean Moonlight (320)ReUpped