Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Tender Bird of Paradise: Les Baxter- The Primitive and the Passionate (1962)
Here's some Les Baxter. Is it phenomenal? Why yes. Yes it is.
To be clear, however: this isn't Mr. Baxter in a deep or mysterious mode, nor does this album find him tinkering too much in experimental ideas. It's just straightforward, phenomenal Exotica. Very upbeat and sunny, but still exotic and sensual enough to excite that fantasy of adventure & paradise. Bird calls, tiger growls, and the moans of a goddess abound, alongside cinematic strings and the classic Les Baxter sound. It may be a little "light" to qualify alongside his very best, but it's still top-notch, wonderful stuff. Really not all that far from Ritual of the Savage, at least at its best moments.
There are a few standards that hit a little weak-- "Via Veneto" is the low point, and "Laura" and "A Taste of Honey" are both pretty safe and easy, though it must be said that they still display the glory of solid Baxter arrangements, and thus sound pretty damn good-- but there's more than enough big winners on here to heartily recommend the record. "Fiesta Brava" starts as a big brash Latin horn thing, then wisely takes a deep turn into surprisingly sultry territory. "A Night With Cleopatra" does get a tad garish, but more than redeems with elegant undertones and a winning Italian soundtrack sensibility (it actually sounds a lot like Riz Ortolani's work on Mondo Cane). "Peking Tiger" is rock solid stuff. "Tenderly" is superb romantica. "Slave Ship" and "Bird of Paradise" are both utter Exotica classics, the latter pushing an echo of "Quiet Village" in a pleasing (if not exactly revelatory) manner.
Hey, I'm gonna say it: I actually love the version of "A Taste of Honey". I think it's a pretty great composition to begin with, and Baxter hits it, softly but deftly, out of the park. No apologies. Herb Alpert is pretty cool a lot of the time.
This is a good record, friends. Take it out in that old sun and enjoy your life.
PRIMITIVE AND PASSIONATE (320)REUPPED