Monday, October 17, 2011

Tamboo!, by Les Baxter, His Orchestra and Chorus (June, 1955)

Dad's Take:

Tamboo is one of the earlier and better-known examples of the Exotica genre, music that brings to mind exotic lands through the rhythms of jazz, classical, and swing music, played with unusual instruments. This album allows you to travel to exotic places without any danger and to confront your inner ethnic sensibilities without risking your whiteness. This is mostly instrumental music, with some wordless choral arrangements mixed in. Each song creates a mood, and evokes a sense of place, usually of a beautiful island paradise. The kind you find in Hollywood.

As much I hate to admit it, I like this album.

To the modern ear, there's plenty of cheese. Think Rodgers and Hammerstein traveling through a projected background of the jungle with the Love Boat crew. Rumba lessons with Tarzan and His Swinging Orchestra. Las Vegas cocktail jungle cruise. I'm pretty sure I should be sitting at a tiki bar while listening to this.

The arrangements are exciting, especially the percussion and percussive strings. Many of the songs include strong rhythms and crazy tempo changes. Baxter was one of those composers who could manage to turn out a complete suite in less than three minutes.

I hear significant influence on later pop masters, especially Brian Wilson. Wilson's sources are often cited as The Four Freshman, Chuck Berry, and Phil Spector, but it's clear he owes a debt to Les Baxter. The impact on Wilson's Pet Sounds, Smile, and Friends instrumentals, both in style and arrangement, is obvious. Maybe that's part of why I like this. It helps me understand where some of Brian Wilson's crazy instrumentals--not quite rock or pop, not quite jazz or classical either--come from.

Back to Baxter. I have to confess that I was not looking forward to listening to this one. Unexpectedly, I caught myself swaying like a cobra, tapping my feet (not so much like a cobra), and just digging Baxter's jazz-inspired trip to the exotic places of Hollywood's imagination. He evokes the feel of the Pacific and Caribbean islands, and of Africa, India, and the Amazon, without leaving behind Western musical forms. It's exotic and yet still familiar. Each song is different, and yet the album holds together as a whole.

Works for me, but I don't think I want to be caught at a stop light with this blasting from my car stereo.

Brad's Take:

Like my dad mentioned above, this album transports you to classic-Hollywood's interpretation of an exotic island. I imagine a 1950s newlywed couple (a guy with slick styled dark hair with a pretty blonde girl hanging on his arm) giggling and pointing at the interesting local native tribe dancing around a bonfire, like how it shows on the album's cover. After reading a little bit about Les Baxter, it's really no surprise that he later started to score cheesy B-movie soundtracks, like Frogs and Muscle Beach Party.

I started getting antsy about halfway through this album. This is definitely not my cup of tea when it comes to music. Although I don't think I plan on listening to it again, it's still interesting and unique. Being a musician myself, I try to have an appreciation for all music. I can appreciate what Baxter was trying to portray here. He pulled it off very well. And if I was having a beach party with friends, I'd probably put this CD on for ambience and a little chuckle.

But really, Les Baxter knew what he was going for, and he pulled it off perfectly. It's great for what it is. It's not something I see myself recommending to anyone, but it's fun and unique, and sometimes that's what people are looking for. So we'll see...

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