Good Music We Can Know

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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Flash Strap Presents: Jungle Shadows II

Jungle Shadows II. I intended to put this up over a week ago, but internet on my little hill in the desert has been a windblown travesty and I haven't been able to get the files up.

It is here now. If you so desire, you can continue the countdown to summer times, or soundtrack your safari days, with more Jungle Shadows. Please do enjoy-- drop a comment to let me know how you're feeling about it all, and what kind of grotto beasts you're discovering in these tropic shades.

Get both parts, fellows, and perhaps check out volume one if you haven't already. Volume III to come next month, likely to conclude the series for the time being (though it may be followed by Dub Hot Dubs 2, and Black Art + Machine Gun Funk 3, if there's any interest).

1. Forest Ballad- Ariel Kalma
2. Nights in Sweat- Ash Ra Tempel
3. Deep Night- Les Baxter
4. India- Gato Barbieri
5. Água Viva- Pedro Santos
6. Your Heat Belongs To Me- The Superettes
7. Moon Lagoon Platoon- Magic Lantern
8. Chuncho- Yma Sumac
9. The Plague- Scott Walker
10. Bye Bye Papaye- Antena
11. I Can't Get Started- Perez Prado
12. You Belong To My Heart- Xavier Cugat & his Waldorf Astoria Orchestra (w/ Bing Crosby)
13. Don't Say No- Speed, Glue and Shinki

14. Quatre Parishe- Dr. John
15. Black Swan- Nina Simone
16. Not For Me- Bobby Darin
17. Call of the Jungle Birds- Tito Puente
18. Bamboo and Rice- Bill Osborn
19. Soul Vibrations- Dorothy Ashby
20. African Queen- Allez Allez
21. Afrique- Duke Ellington
23. Dune- Tony Esposito
24. Na Baixa Do Sapateiro- Carmen Miranda & The Andrews Sisters
25. El Caballo- Roberto Cantoral
26. Steam Heat- Barbara Moore
27. Electric Piano, Vibraphone, Percussion And Rain- Craig Kupka
28. Mystery track

R E U P P E D, B O T H P A R T S

Speaking of mixes: if any of you out there are wishing you'd downloaded all those Holy Warbles mixes (including the collabs with Ghostcapital), fellow blogger guillermotattingSo, you might check that out.

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.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Creole Venus: Piero Umiliani and Carlo Rustichelli- Venere Creola (1961)

Here's a fun little EP of a soundtrack Umiliani did with Carlo Rustichelli in 1961. At this point, I may not need to explain why I think Umiliani is so great, so I'll just point out that Rustichelli is no slouch, either, with hundreds of soundtracks to his name, including some work with Fellini.

Venere Creola isn't even close to the best or most interesting work that these men are capable of. And while it's rather slight (20 minutes and six songs, all nice and none phenomenal), its Haitian/Calypso-influenced sound is charming, pleasant, and deeply warm, so I highly recommend giving it a listen. You won't regret it.

Many thanks to the original ripper for this gorgeous 320 rip.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Flash Strap Presents: Roger Roger & Nino Nardini- Obsession Exotique

When Roger Roger and Nino Nardini got together to record Jungle Obsession, the two old friends were doing more than just creating the finest Exotica record since the heyday of Exotica. They were also making a brilliant tribute to a genre they held dear-- a culmination of years of personal exotic obsession. The influence of Exotica, perhaps most specifically Les Baxter, can be found throughout both's body of work: from straight Exotica numbers with full orchestras, to "Exotica" homages in a groovier library style, to jungle funk, latin jazz, synth safari, lush pastorale, etc.
indeed, some of Roger Roger's earlier work (Musique Des Iles and Méditerranée, as well as an EP labelled Roger Roger 2) basically are unqualified Exotica, albeit a bit lite in tone and saccharine in string.

There's scarcely a record I like better than Jungle Obsession. But there are some stray tracks out there that are just as good as any on Jungle Obsession, so I started thinking about compiling them in a little .zip for you all. As I went, scouring all the various disorganized output of Roger Roger and Nino Nardini (and their various aliases- Cecil Leuter, Eric Swan, Dave Sarkys, to name a few), a larger picture began to form, with multiple facets of Exotica influence and exotic themes. The result is not the tight little masterpiece of latter-day Exotica that Jungle Obsession is, but its broader scope and crazy detours make it, if I may, an excellent companion piece.
Obsession Exotique: I have it, they had it, and won't you, too, share in our dark safari?

The cover shown above is an appropriated and altered from the original cover for Roger Roger 2 (a 4 track EP which is included, by the way, in its entirety on Obsession Exotique). All tracks include a parenthetical detailing the album from whence they came and whatever alias they were done under, if any. Some of the tracks are rather rarely seen, while others are likely to be very familiar to blog-crawlers and library-hunters (the Stringsonics material is hardly "rare" at this point, and Nardini's "Pop Riviera" material is on more than a few rare-groove comps), but I'm striving here to include every major piece of the puzzle-- and tracks like "Safari Park" and "Latinova" are too awesome and essential to leave out.

Put this on. Clamber into a luxurious hammock. Let somebody blow smoke at your face as you dream.

1. Jungle Call (Call Him Roger Roger)- Roger Roger
2. Chanson De Lima Du Film L'empire Du Soleil (Roger Roger 2)- Roger Roger
3. Anastasia Du Film Anastasia (Roger Roger 2)- Roger Roger
4. Escapade (Mood Music Vol. 24)- Roger Roger
5. Sortileges (Musique Des Iles)- Roger Roger
6. Tears (Méditerranée)- Roger Roger
7. Viva (Conroy BMLP 006)- Nino Nardini
8. Coconut Coast (Jazz Dramatic)- Roger Roger
9. Mango Girl (Jazz Dramatic)- Nino Nardini
10. Jungle Mood (Nature Nocturne)- Nino Nardini
11. Soothsayer (Jazz Dramatic)- Nino Nardini
12. Passion Fruit (Jazz Dramatic)- Nino Nardini
13. Bossa-Rhythm (Afro, Spooky/Rhythm, Percussion)- Nino Nardini
14. Ectoplasm (Afro, Spooky/Rhythm, Percussion)- Roger Roger
15. Poltergeist (Afro, Spooky/Rhythm, Percussion)- Roger Roger
16. Roger-Rhythm II (Afro, Spooky/Rhythm, Percussion)- Roger Roger
17. House of Echoes (Afro, Spooky/Rhythm, Percussion)- Nino Nardini
18. Afro-Beat/Afro-Syn[edit] (Afro, Spooky/Rhythm Percussion)- Nino Nardini
19. Afro-Samba (Stringsonics- Mindbender)- Nino Nardini
20. Safari Park (Stringsonics- Mindbender)- Roger Roger
21. Strange Motion (Nature Nocturne)- Nino Nardini
22. The Search (Drama And Suspense)- Roger Roger
23. Moondust (Nature Nocturne)- Nino Nardini
24. Perdition (Stringsonics- Mindbender)- Roger Roger
25. Latinova (Pop Riviera, No. 7)- Nino Nardini
26. Dark Secret (Trumpet Mexico, as Eric Swan)- Roger Roger
27. Pop Riviera (Pop Riviera, No.7)- Nino Nardini
28. Tropical Haze (Altitude 3000, as Cecil Leuter)- Roger Roger
29. Exotica Nights (Altitude 3000, as Cecil Leuter)- Roger Roger
30. Expectation (Roger's New Conception: Informatic 2000)- Roger Roger & Nino Nardini
31. Velvet Clouds (Melodies with a Beat)- Roger Roger
32. La Desirade (Music Around The World Vol. 1)- Nino Nardini
33. Love Me Tender Du Film Love Me Tender (Roger Roger 2)- Roger Roger
34. Pour Toi Seul [Friendly Persuasion] Du Film La Loi De Seigneur (Roger Roger 2)- Roger Roger
35. Malta (Conroy BMLP 006)- Nino Nardini

R E • U P P E D

Don't hesitate to drop an appreciative comment, or alert me to further nuggets of RR&NN's exotic oeuvre. And for god's sake- if you don't have Jungle Obsession, get it already!