Yma Sumac - The Quintessence [El/ Cherry Red - 2019]One of the most known/celebrated names in 1950’s exotica/ early world music is Yma Sumac- the Peruvian singer was a coloratura soprano with both a powerful and varied voice, that could go all the way from low and warming, through to shrill & bird-like singing. Here from El- one of the Cherry Red family of labels is a recent three-CD boxset bringing six classic albums the singer released between 1950 & 1959.
The three CDs each come in there own card slip sleeves- and these are presented inside a hard card flip side box, which has yellow, black and white color scheme. There’s also a twenty-page booklet bringing together quotes about Ms. Sumac, as well as original linear notes & track themes/ descriptions.
The first disc takes in two & bit albums- we have Voice Of The Xtabay from 1950, Legend Of The Virgin Sun From 1951-56, a selection of tracks from 1951 Broadway musical Flahooley. The first album takes in nine tracks, and was Sumac first album- it was produced and composed by Exotica/ lounge music legend Les Baxton- the release is a heady & fairly varied blend of dramatic & grand orchestration, often fairly subtle ethnic percussion, and of course Sumac startling voice which has a range of five octaves- so she moves from sensual-to-harmonically animalistic groans & bays, swooning & dramatic mids, and warbling-to-shrill highs. Her switch between each seems effortless & fault-less, and I can’t imagine them doing too many takes- so that makes the whole thing, even more, startling. Musical I’d say the sound here is more subtle world music touched easy listening, with flavours of mambo rhythms- in places we do move towards Exotica, but personal I think the sound is too grand, less playful, and lacking bird call sound elements to be truly exotica.
The second full-length album on disc takes in eleven tracks that date from between 1951 and 56- with these where written & produced by Peruvian composer, arranger and orchestra leader Moises Vivanco. Musical the sound here once again is decidedly dramatic & grand world music influenced blending orchestrated light classical, Latin jazz, and afro Caribbean rhythms. At times the tracks feel on the cusp of been show bound light operatic- and once again Sumac shows the versatility in her voice, though there is more warbling light operatics here.
The end of this first disc takes in six tracks from Flahooley-which was a musical based on a book by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, with music by Sammy Fain- and these as expected are very stage show bound- with Sumac dramatically shifting voice been paired with darting orchestration, and more quirky male storytelling voice- these are ok, highlighting Ms. Sumac versatile voice, though the more musical feel of the music did put me off a little.
The second disc takes in Mambo! From 1954, and Inca Taqui(Chants Of The Incas) 1953. The first album takes in eleven tracks from the 5th album by Sumac which are once again Moises Vivanco penned and produced- and as the album title suggests a lot of the tracks are based around bombastic Cuban rhythmic elements & dramatic-to-snazzy orchestration, with touches of jaunting ethic bamboo, focused percussion. All in all, it’s a very punchy bright record- with Sumac voice soaring, swooping & flaming along.
The second album takes in eight tracks from her third album- once again these are penned and produced by Moises Vivanco, and the musical pace is a little more varied as we move from just shimmering & fragile guitar work, onto more oriental instrumentation with grand crashing percussion, through traditional jaunting Inca type melodies & subtle backing choirs- Sumac voice is very much to the fore here, and again it highlights the scope & versatility of her voice.
The third & final disc in 1957’s Legend Of The Jivaro, and Fuego Del Ande( Fire Of The Andes) from 1959. The album takes in twelve tracks which were composed/arranged/ produced by Moises Vivanco & Bill Hitchcock- and I’d say this is one of the more formally Exotica/world music tipped lounge albums of the set- we move from cluttering percussion meets dramatic male chorus of "Jivaro", which sounds like the march of Mongol’s. Onto the slight sour flute & tinkling-to- clinking oriental instrumentation of "Giant Condor". Through to mournful horn & simmer string met lonesome wind sounds & sadly warbling vocals of "The Seven Winds". All told this is one of my favourite albums of the set.
The final album in the set takes in eleven tracks- and here we move towards commercial world focused easy listening- with the tracks featuring stanch flamenco guitars, detailed clop-clip percussion, jaunting orchestration. and almost world music tinged surf guitar work. The melodies here are all a bit more formal western & late 50 pop centred- I can’t say I was very taken by this album, as it just felt contrived & forced trying to giving a slightly more exotic & sassy heated turn on easy listening.
In conclusion, it’s great to have these six early albums from Ms. Sumac all in one place- and they certainly highlight both the versatility of her voice, and the different sub-genres of easy listening & light world music her musical collaborators utilized. Sure I don’t like everything here, especially the material that either moves more towards musical fare or lightly world music touched lounge- but there is more than enough to enjoy on this set, and with the around £13.00 price tag this is good value for money.