Good Music We Can Know

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Like Young Gods Emerging From Ernesto's Forehead: A Lecuona Cuban Boys 78 Collection

If you at all enjoyed last week's Xavier Cugat 78s, then I heartily guarantee that you will die for this collection of similar material from the incredible Lecuona Cuban Boys.  Such sweet sounds are rare indeed.

The Lecuona Cuban Boys don't take their name from composer Ernesto Lecuona without good reason-- they were founded in part by the esteemed Mr. Lecuona himself.  Originally known as Orquestra Encanto, the band began touring in 1934, with Lecuona in tow, at least at first.  In the role of "patron-entepreneur," Lecuona never played as part of the band-- he was given to the occasional piano recital before the show, but nothing beyond that-- but he lent the ensemble the considerable value of his popular and exquisite songs, and by the end of '34, had also lent them his name.  Thus, they became the Lecuona Cuban Boys, and a truly formidable and beautiful touring group was born.

Though they specialize in delightfully robust conga and rhumba numbers, the Boys seem to be fluent in all manner of 30's-40's Afro-Cuban and Exotic popular music.  They can be languidly, almost spookily, exotic, such as on their virtually unparalleled version of "Tabou," "Canto Indio," or the utterly narcotic "Hindou," which can be heard above.  These songs just drip with erotic moisture and tropic haze, and are undoubtedly my favorites.  That tropic-romanticism sound carries over, in less intense effect, to their  more straightforward Latin-pop numbers, such as "Amapola" or "Antilana" (with the slightly bizarre-sounding "Maria La O" somewhere in between), often with the sleepwalk vocals of one of the classic dreamy-voiced lovermen, Alberto Rabagliati.  Some of the selections here feature female vocals as well-- generally those of the Belgian chanteuse Élyane Célis, but with a few from the great Josephine Baker (including a solid rendition of "Besame Mucho").  Beneath the Latin overtones, there's a pre-war international flavor here that richly evokes legendary film-world dens of night-life and multiculturalism-- exemplified, perhaps, by Rick's nobly depraved Café Américain in Casablanca.  

As with the last post, these murky bubbles of magic, beamed into our now from another time-- from a black-and-white dimension full of white suits and fruit-bowl hats-- came from the Internet Archive
(courtesy the "Grimriper"- find a way to thank the generosity of this mysterious hero!).  And as with the last, I've taken the modest pains of organizing the labeling and selecting from the numerous duplicate rips the very best quality versions.

With that, I have but to say that I would be very pleased for you to sink into these deep little wells of sound.  Enjoy, friends.


Friday, February 8, 2013

"The Pagan I Love": Xavier Cugat, Master Pratictioner of Early Exotica and Rhumba Jazz

My first introduction to the eternal Mr. Xavier Cugat was through an early 60's LP, the really quite exquisite Viva Cugat!, but I didn't really fall in love with the man's work or comprehend the magnitude of his talent and influence until I began digging into earlier decades.  Cugat's brand of sexy rhumba-centric exoticism lent itself, quite obviously, very well to the greater Exotica trend of the 50's and early 60's-- but for him, this fascinatingly prolific and unique period in music may have felt more like a revival, or at least a continuation. Cugat had been working with what we now think of as "exotica" since the 30's, and indeed played a huge role in determining which songs would ultimately cement themselves as standards within the Exotica canon: he helped popularize Cuban music, recording numerous Ernesto Lecuona compositions (including, of course, the exquisite "Jungle Drums"), performed the original version of "Babalu", had not one but two hits with Alberto Dominguez' "Perfidia", and generally played a major role in Latin music from Cuban to Brazilian enjoying a heyday as a major international musical trend.

In the Latin craze which penetrated American popular music of the 30's and 40's, Carmen Miranda was queen and Xavier Cugat was king-- Perez Prado and Desi Arnaz, the successful princes who followed along in their footsteps.  Among his many collaborators and bandmates we may count Lalo Schifrin, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tito Rodriguez, Yma Sumac, Rita Hayworth, and many more.  He's also a hilarious draftsman and caricaturist.

Cugat popularized tango, mambo, rhumba, conga, and cha-cha-cha, all genres that tend to be discussed often in terms of their intensity, which gives the impression of their practitioners as being more passionate and brash than anything else, even unsubtle.  But while Papa Cugat's swingers are of the finest magnitude, even his brawniest numbers don't aspire to anything like the sheer crazed muscle of Perez Prado's best work (whose own power is never to be underestimated, and ought not be unduly accused of un-subtlety itself).  Particularly in the early days, he's actually rather tender, or torridly elegant, when and where the piece calls for it.

Indeed, the rhumba and its like used to be a more flexible and rich form, capable of absorbing almost anything from folk, pop, and jazz and producing from it's jazz-orchestral womb an exquisite synthesis (this is illustrated in revelatory fashion by Rhythm & Blues' Rumba Jazz 1919-1945, The History Of Latin Jazz & Dance Music From The Swing Era, one of my very favorite compilations of the decade).  Mr. Cugat may be one of the most enormously commercial and popular practitioners within this cottage industry, but this changes not a whit that fact that his best (early) work remains utterly top-notch and brilliant-- particularly when dealing in specifically exotica, exotica, and proto-exotica compositions.

One of my favorite collections of early Cugat numbers is South America, Take it Away! Covering a the fruitful period from 1935-46 with New York's Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra, this has some of the best and most essential Cugat selections, quite a few of which are early exotica numbers-- with amazing vocals, several of them by Bing Crosby (and wonderful lyrics not often heard in later Exotica versions, a treat perhaps exemplified by the lyric to "Jungle Drums").  I can never find a very good copy of it, but from a few defective rips and such I have been able to cobble together a pretty decent full version.  Check here for the track listing and some additional info.


I would encourage you not to stop there, however.  I have something else I'd love for you to hear.  While digging around in the internet archive site, in the 78's and Cylinders collection, I came across a series of wonderful old Cugat rips (all furnished selflessly by the "Grimriper," to whom I tip my hat with deep and abiding respect and gratitude-- here's to you sir).  They are wonderful and wide-ranging-- and considering that they likely all came from 40's-era 78 vinyl, they sound phenomenal.  I can't recommend this stuff highly enough.  You can check it out here (as well as preview tracks and thank the uploader), and please do, but for your highest convenience, I've compiled all the tracks and tidied up all the labeling, then upped it here.

This stuff is largely just mind-bogglingly great, so beautiful and romantic and exhilarating. Of particular note: "Greek Bolero", "Baia" and "You Belong To My Heart" (both with the incomparable Bing Crosby), "Misirlou" (with Dinah Shore), "Poinciana", "Perfidia", "Jalousie", and many more to be sure.  Now bring these elegant Latin ghosts of Exotica's early history into your night and into your life.

Coming soon: some highlights from Cugat later career in the LP era.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Journey Into the Face of a Cosmic God: Sven Grünberg- Hingus (1981)

Of all the treasures to be found at The Growing Bin, Hingus is one of my absolute favorites.  But, as sometimes happens, the Bin's own link is with us no longer.  So, in the interest of keeping it alive and circulating, I post it here today.

Hingus is the first solo album from Sven Grünberg, the Estonian synth-warlock (and chairman of the Estonian Institute of Buddhism) previously of the band Mess.  Hingus (which, in Estonian, means "breath") is lovely little marvel, an exquisite gem of ambient synthesizer music.  Perhaps despite what its appearance and pedigree might suggest, it's not particularly proggy, nor does it have the pulsing sequencers of classic Berlin School-- what it most reminds me of, in fact, is not Jean-Michel Jarre or Tangerine Dream, or even Vangelis, whose work (especially on China) does come awful darn close, but Alice Coltrane's devotional efforts on staggering works such as Divine Songs.  It has that spiritual breadth (and eastern modality, here manifest in melodies and tones reminiscent at times of Chinese opera and Japanese classical music) coupled with a strong, overwhelming sense of the sublime-- both the beauty and yawning terror of a hugeness, the unfathomable size of the universe and the invisible forces of the void somehow conveyed in whooshing, swooning, soaring synth washes and cosmic gong crashes.

This is a classic, a giant.  God damn it, I love this Hingus!  Check out the Growing Bin's post for technical specs (and give a thank you to Zeroy).  Then float like a ghost planet through a shimmering universe with


Thanks to everyone for being so cool and checking out Crashing Waves.  You're all real pals.