Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Where Flamingos Fly: Bert Kaempfert- Afrikaan Beat (1962), A Swingin' Safari (1962)
The first time I really heard Exotica, I was driving to the beach with my gang. We were packed in a Toyota Previa, custom hand-painted to look like an undersea scene, and we were on a savage quest for maximum relaxation and revelatory adventure at Emerald Isle. As we crossed onto the island, my friend Sid popped on a CD he had borrowed from his dad, a Martin Denny best-of. Good god, was it good. I mean, it was perfect. It started something for me.
The first Exotica LP I bought for myself, a few years later, was Les Baxter's Tamboo!, for maybe a dollar at some nautical-themed thrift store in Maine-- and it was one of the best things I had ever heard. Moments of revelation like these caused me to spend less time looking for psych and 60's records and devote my energies to hunting quixotically for Exotica or promising easy listening LPs. In those early days of discovery, I first stumbled on a record that looked like this:
Something told me to get it, even though it didn't seem all that exotic. At first, I thought it was just okay, but I actually listened to it a lot. I put it on a tape and played it a few times while floating in my father's pond. Perhaps because of the plain cover, or maybe because I scored it ten years ago when my taste in Exotica was still developing, I always kept it filed away in my head as good-not-great. Inessential, somehow.
I don't have any of my albums with me in Mexico. They all languish in a dark storage unit, stateside. But I have most of my tapes, and the other day I popped the Afrikaan Beat tape in the deck of the old Safari, for the first time in years. Oh damn, but did I ever start to smilin'. I realized, for the first time, just how good it was. I realized I'd always loved it but never fully comprehended how much, or why.
A mostly horn-led Exotica Easy-listening album may not sound like the cat's meow on paper, but brother allow me to insist. This is a deceptive masterpiece (there, I've said it- again), perfect for a light-hearted safari expedition, or a warm nighttime deck party at a coastal mansion. Kaempfert composes here in a style very similar to Herb Alpert's early work, specifically The Lonely Bull-- which is itself a bit of an underrated masterpiece, if you've never heard it-- loungy, drippy piano melodies, luxurious strings, playfully strummed guitars, and an easy shuffle, coupled with nuanced and refreshingly un-brassy horns. But while Herb's record (which is so easy to stumble across that it starts to seem as common as junk mail, or air molecules) can only offer so many phenomenal tracks like "The Lonely Bull", or "El Lobo" before it has to lurch into the ruckus of (admittedly above-average) bullfight bullshit, Afrikaan Beat is a treat and a treasure from start to finish. So playful, so enjoyable, so fucking good.
Bert's own LP, A Swingin' Safari, (which features the title track of this album as well) is the more prominent work of the two, and quite similar, but this is the superior record by far. If you only get one, this my friends is the one. The rip I've found is at a monstrous&gorgeous 320 kbps, and comes with the cover art featured at the top of this post. While I admit I have nostalgia for the text-only design I first encountered, I have to say that the "gal in jungle shadows" visual conceit strikes me as both preferable and classically appropriate. But you know I love that shit.
Speaking of: Jungle Shadows II is coming next week, please drop by and check it out.
AFRIKAAN BEAT (320) •REUPPED (Thank you, original ripper, whoever and wherever you are)
Swingin' Safari, is, as mentioned earlier, the more well-known record-- Billy Vaughn's version of the title track became a hit and prominent TV theme. While it may not be as consistent as Afrikaan Beat, it's still very very good, and generally very similar in tone. It's a little schmaltzier in places ("Wimoweh"- who needs it), but its high points (such as the stellar "Similau") are high indeed. Check it out.
A SWINGIN' SAFARI (192)