Various Artists - Dark Exotica: As Dug By Lux & Ivy [Righteous/Cherry Red - 2022]
Dark Exotica is the latest in the ongoing Lux & Ivy compilation series, which finds respected music journalist Dave Henderson crate-digging for obscure 45s from the ’50s & ’60. And this two-disc set is a little bit of a departure for the series- as instead of collecting together a series of tracks, it brings together four exotica/ lounge / light big band jazz albums, which either have either dark/ shady connections- be it in the players, or in its theme…though there is nothing terrible sinister, or unsettling here.
The two CDs come presented in a clear and thin double jewel case-this comes with a glossy eight-page inlay booklet, featuring a short write-up about the albums included by Henderson. We also get small reproduction of the album covers, and their track listing- through no real detail of who is playing on each release. The albums feature here come from the late ’50s/ early ’60s.
First up we have 1962’s Polynesia which is by the Buddy Collette Septet. This features six tracks in all, and I’d say it mostly sits more in the light easy listening jazz side of things. The first half of the album features the warbling and warming soprano singing by Marni Nixton. Though the most worthy/ interesting track here is the fifth track "Polynesian Suite"- this is seven-part track, which features a dramatic spoken word story by Robert Sorrels- an actor who later on became a convicted murderer. Dotted around his words are largely mournful to brooding slight ethnic percussion, and jazz tones. It’s certainly the highlight/ main interest of this album.
Next on disc one, we have 1959’s Provocation Exotique by John McFarland Sextet, and it’s seemingly the project's one and only release. This of all the four albums here is the firmest example of the Exotica genre-through I'm not sure what makes this one ‘dark’, but it’s certainly a rewarding and varied example of the genre. It features eight tracks in all, and these go from darting keys, sliding percussion, bird sounds, and great vibe work of “Jungle Bells”. Onto the bounding double bass, fiddling ‘n’ upfront noisy percussion tone, and jiving piano work of “Watusi”. We have lulling music box keys, jingling ‘n’ jangling percussion, thoughtful key runs and lightly dart vibe detail of “Midnight by A Persian waterfall”. All in all, this is the most consistent of the four albums feature.
Moving onto the second disc- and first, up here we have 1956’s Cuban Fire! By Stan Kenton. This is a six-track album, and while some of it touches on more bombastic exotica- the sound is big band easy listening jazz, with some slight Latin and Cuban flavours. It’s ok, I guess with some nice arrangements with an often in-your-face/ bombastic feel to the material. As I say it’s ok, if you’re after slightly exotic percussion big band jazz from the ’50s.
Finally, we have the 1960s Seven Deadly Sins by Bill Russo and His Orchestra. And as its title suggests there is a slightly darker theme at play here, as each of the track( aside from the opening theme) focuses on the seven deadly sins. Though once again, this isn’t really an exotica release- it’s more of moody to dramatic big band jazz affair. We get a rewarding use of more purring 'n' deep horn work on quite a few of the tracks, and the presentation of each sin is ok I guess, though it all does rather all blend together- with nothing major standout. So I’d a passable 60’s big band record with a neat enough theme.
In conclusion, you’ve got to into this collection expecting more of a mix of big band jazz/ bombastic lounge music, with Exotica downplayed for the most part. For what it is, it’s fine- but I just wish it could have had a more honest/fitting title…never the less, I’m once again pleased to see this series continuing, and long may it do so!.Roger Batty