Various Artists - Exotica Classics [ El/Cherry Red - 2014]This two CD set on Cherry Red’s El label brings together five long out of print albums, which move through exotica, ethnic tinged easy listening fare, and exotica tinged lite jazz. The albums on offer here come from between the years 1956 & 1962, and it’s fair to say the quality of the albums is a more than a little mixed-going from: bland & campy, to the enjoyable-if –rather-disposable-novelty, onto genreal rewarding & replay-ble work.
The set comes in a narrow card slip case, with the two discs each coming in a colour card slip case- each of these takes in two of the covers of the albums, with the 5th album cover appearing on the sets booklet. The 32 page booklet that comes with the set, features a short write-up about each disc, along with some pictures & artwork relating to each album/artists.
So first up on disc one we have Miriam Burton’s African Lament, which originally appeared in 1961 on the Epic label. Miriam Burton was a Broadway show singer in the early 1960’s, and veteran of the jazz scene. African Lament, was her one & only foray into the world of exotica, and the album features seven tracks in all. It’s best classify what we have here as African themed exotica presented with a mix of African percussive instruments, flutes, tipples, marimba- along with melodic traces added in by the subtle touches of conventional orchestration & instrumentation. And it’s topped off with Burton’s wordless vocals that go from soaring ‘n’ mysterious, onto joyous ‘n’ vibrate, through to swooning ‘n’ rich, and tribal ‘n’ heady. All in all it’s a pleasing enough release with enough variation from track to track in both mood & pace, and if you enjoy your exotica rich with ethnic percussion & wordless female vocals you’ll find a lot to enjoy here
Up next on disc one we Bob Romeo His Flute & The Jungle presents Aphrodisia, and this originally appeared on Sunset Records in 1956. This release offers up eleven tracks worth of flute centred fare, which moves between bad/mock ethnic easy listening( the type of thing you could imagine on a carry-on movie that’s supposable passed in a ‘foreign land’). Onto twanging guitar work outs meets low rent eastern mystic percussion, through to jaunting piano & flute waltz’s, and bland brews of ethic percussive works-out ‘n’ jazz flute dwells. This may well be a rare release, but sadly that doesn’t necessarily make it very good!…this is more bland ethnic & world music tinged easy listening , than a rewarding & consistent exotica release.
On the end of disc one we get four tracks( with the remaining two tracks appear on disc two) from The Buddy Collette Septet with Marni Nixon – Polynesia. This album comes from 1959, and this is one of the most rare albums of this set- with original copies going for £300 plus!. The first four tracks here are very much lite jazzy 1950’s easy listening fare with swooning female singing by Ms Nixon- there are touches of exotica here, but really I’d say this is more jazz tinged & laid back easy listening. The last two tracks are rather bizarre mix of dramatic male spoken word elements, incidental music cues, and ethnic percussion runs. The spoken word elements seem to move between odd & tripped-out tropical trip reminiscence & beat poet rumblings. And the music cues flit between dramatic jazz tinged easy listening, ethnic percussive sound tracking, and a mix of gloomy & brighter exotica fare. The first four tracks are passable enough slices of lite jazzy easy listening with subtle exotica touches, but the last two tracks are great wacky ‘n’ bizarre slices of 1950’s fare.
So moving onto disc two & past the two final tracks from Polynesia, we get Frank Hunter And His Orchestraý’s album White Goddess. This originally appeared in 1959 on Kapp Records. It offers up another eleven tracks, and this I guess is one of the more purely focused examples of exotica on this collection. The tracks are a mainly mellow-to-dramatic mix of mysterious & exotic tinged easy listening that’s ribbed by vibe ‘n’ marimba percussion, and edged with wordless & soaring female vocals. There are also the odd traces of thermin or simlar early electronic elements on a few tracks too, which make for a nice extra touch. All told this is one of the more consistent albums of this collection.
Finishing off disc two we have Ahmad Jamal & Orchestra’s album Macanudo. This album appeared in 1962 on Argo Records. Ahmad Jamal is an American jazz pianist, composer & group leader, whose discography spans from the early 1950's to the present day. And Macanudo’s eight tracks offer up a mix of tuneful & soundtrack like mixture of orchestrated easy listening & post-bop/ cool jazz- with some very subtle exotica themed melodies & percussive elements. This album is all well enough played & executed, but really I found the whole thing a little bland & unrewarding, but that said I’m not the greatest fan of run of the mill jazz/easy listening.
All in all this is worth picking up if you enjoy either ethnic tinged easy listening or exotica- sure not all of what’s here is great or classic, but there’s enough good stuff here to make the purchase price of just shy of £11.00 make it worth a punt.Roger Batty