Monday, June 4, 2012
Shadow of Love and the Enchanted Reef: Les Baxter- The Soul of the Drums (1963)
Here's another phenomenal Baxter record that might not crack the "Top Five," but really deserves to heard nonetheless. It's been rather idiotically paired with his movie themes album, Academy Award Winners, for the CD reissue, when it should have been coupled with the previous year's Primitive and Passionate (itself thoughtlessly paired with Les Baxter's Balladeers, an even dumber pick). That's beside the point-- who cares what these assholes do-- but it is worth noting that, like Primitive and Passionate, Soul of the Drums is another Baxter album from the early 60's that largely adheres to that marvellous "Les Baxter Sound," with fabulous results. Where Primitive and Passionate might subtly highlight horns, however, Soul of the Drums obviously favors an ever-present drum sound. Though it must be said: this is not the drum-centric disappointment that is Baxter's Teen Drums.
From its opening moments, this is absolutely classic Exotica. The first track, "Girl Behind the Bamboo Curtain", is just one of those quintessential upbeat flute safaris, a light, bouncy composition of the sort favored by Martin Denny. "Coffee Bean and Calabash Annie" once again finds Baxter cannibalizing bits of his earlier melodies-- in some circles this could be seen as a negative but such repetitions are right at home in Exotica, a genre that lives and dies on derivations on familiar themes. "Sunrise at Kowloon" is a perfectly archetypal string-led piece of orchestral Exotica (and may bring up warm memories for anyone who's ever been to the tiki behemoth Kow Loon in Saugus-- RIP Mr. Wong). "River of Dreams" is at least as lovely as it sounds, and "Shadow of Love and the Enchanted Reef" is a romantic canoe-trip masterpiece with just enough mystery to make it titillating. The closing track, "Ceremony", is a drum workout which may seem a bit tepid to anyone who's grooved to Sabu or Tito's exotic-mode drum orgies, but it ain't bad.
The record is, in general, sterling stuff-- even if it is a bit light. The real standout track, though, is a funny little masterpiece called "Lord What a Morning". With a woody, spirit-jazzy bass sound, a folksy zither (or autoharp? I don't know), and crisp, snappy drums-- coupled with the usual perfume-y sound of the Les Baxter strings-- the selection has a unique feel and freshness, a real sense of musical discovery. As much as I love Baxter, I wish that in his later days he would have fooled around with these type of slight but striking derivations even further.
Also: very good sleeve art. They don't make 'em now like they once did, that's for sure.
SOUL OF THE DRUMS (320)REUPPED