If you wish to escape the pressures and tensions of sophisticated commercialism, daily hypnosis of television, undercurrents of social and political tidal waves, then follow the sun to the islands in the Pacific... When you hear a recorded tropical bird call, velvet vibes, piano and exciting percussions blend together, you ARE on an island... you see tranquil blue lagoons, hazy purple valleys and lovely hula hands– you are immersed in the bewitching spell of Arthur Lyman's ISLE OF ENCHANTMENT. -Liner notes by Tony Lease ("Radio Voice of the Pacific"), for Arthur Lyman's 1964 LIFE series LP, Isle of Enchantment
In the past I have covered, in a manner I suspect more each day is wholly inadequate in comparison to the excellence of the material, the best LPs of an in-his-prime Arthur Lyman ("one of the few musical princes to be born of Hawaii", according to Mr. Lease). Like the rest of his Exotica brethren, Lyman's heyday came in the late 50's and early 60's, an incredibly brief but fertile period. Nearly everything that followed the output of these golden years evidenced a case of diminishing returns-- slightly undignified attempts to "keep up," or at least get work, in the changing 60's. Denny pursued a trajectory that led, for the most part, straight down (excepting a few choice works here and there). Baxter became increasingly hit-or-miss (but still, what hits!), and toiled endlessly in the ignominious Beach Party/teen movie soundtrack business (not that I'm knocking it, and bless him for it). The imitators and hangers-on gradually slipped by the wayside, growing paler and more bland along the way.
Lyman, too, began to lose his grip on a legacy of firm excellence. Yet, the autumn of Arthur Lyman remains a surprisingly fertile season, one well worth investigating, each successive record clearly second-tier but solid, containing occasionally marvelous moments.
One such work is Isle of Enchantment, with its thrillingly purple back-cover prose reprinted (in abridged form) above. How wonderful, how telling, that a work positively steeped in influences, stereotypes, and anxieties related to and emanating from "sophisticated commercialism," television, and for god's sake, "undercurrents of social and political tidal waves" might also purport to offer reprieve from those same cultural facts of life. This is Exotica, all right, in all its complex and utterly simple glory.
Opening with the well-played but almost hilariously derivative title track (a piece deeply indebted to "Quiet Village"), the record continues on in a fashion that's both terminally mellow and yet always enjoyable. This album exemplifies second-stage Lyman, and is among the most consistent of the bunch. Less inventive and experimental in every way, it operates as sterling, top-notch exotic easy-listening/background music, placing strong emphasis on Hawaiiana and cool jazz, with the invariable inclusion of a couple Japanese (or otherwise "Oriental," as the case may be) compositions and an effortlessly Lyman-restyled cover of a popular hit (or five). In this case, there's a few of the latter, the best being the excellent Mancini theme from the also-excellent film, Charade. The theme from The High and the Mighty, and "Et Maintenant" (also known as "What Now My Love") fare rather well, also. As an album, it's helped along by the particularly exuberant version of "Guadalajara" that opens side two, breaking up the monochromatic sensibility and injecting some of the essential latin/afro-cuban elements that keep exotica on the other side of soporific.
Once you've made your way through the best of the Lyman catalog, I am confident that many of you will be left wanting more. Let it be known: there is more out there, don't fear to take it. True, nothing out there will reach the heights of Bwana A or Legend of Pele or Taboo, but it's still worth some attention from your ears. Put this on, friends, and forget those social tidal waves, at least for a few vibraphone-laden moments of mild bliss.
Isle of Enchantment (192)