Back to the jungle for the album "Mysterious Instinct"? Not quite but "El Watsusi", Ray Barretto has paired up here with vocalist Brock Peters of Senegalese descent. Brock will always be known more so for his acting as Tom Robinson in "To Kill A Mockingbird" as well as a list of acting credits that follow including even working with Fess Parker in "Daniel Boone" during the sixties television show. Brock Peters was also an accomplished singer and was there adding background vocals to Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat" (Day-O) as well as performing with the Duke Ellington's concert of Sacred Music. The majority of the songs are traditional African, spiritual and slavery songs with three Bobby Scott originals and the first song "Sing A' Man" being the only ones not concerning the subject. Brock sings in formal manner but can sing with a more African dialect approach but that formal training still remains within which brings a a wonderful clear clarity to his vocals. Brock has a voice similar to James Earl Jones but not quite as deep as Brock also did the speaking sections for the radio version of Star Wars playing Darth Vader showing not only his singing abilitys but he also has a lovely deep voice for narrations which is what we get between the compositions with Brock giving a description before a few concerning the African traditional numbers.
This is one strange album for Ray Barretto being nothing like any of the innumberable others that he released over time and if Salsa and driving Latin Jazz are what you are chasing, there is not a bit here but a more Exotica influence throughout. Although the material could be thought as way out it is not all that much with a more traditional feel always kept concerning those particular African songs but still providing that western take for this style of music from this period being recorded in 1965 near the tail end for Exotica. Two conga players are included with Ray Barretto and Chief Bey the other. George Duviivier is on bass, Stick Evans plays tympani and Al Leas provides flute to great effect throughout the album with Brock Peters singing the vocals and narrating between the odd tune.
The notes on the album are not all complete as we have no mention who the backing vocalists are but most likely just band members who like coros are singing usually singing the chorus in repitition as with the first number "Sing A' Man which has a bit of an up tempo beat. That beat though quickly dissipates for the next composition "Wide Dark Troubled Waters" being a spiritual and sung in a formal style with a slow time and Brock Peter's voice bringing that deep sound within but things do get more interesting for the next traditional African number "Papa Zimbi" and the flute from Al Leas brings a beautiful old time African feel. "Go Round The Wall" is closer to a Cuban rumba but no matter with the voices sung in chorus and Al's flute darting in and out between the twin congas it is one of the delights from the album. Talking about album delights, strangely the following slow timed spiritual "Way Yonder Far" with Al Sears flute gets a special mention within the albums notes as one but I do prefer his other contributions myself. "Way Yonder Far" just does not quite crack it here for me as it gets just a little dreary but things do pick up for the following "The Gambler". The actual narration sequences and the more distinct African feel is all within the following three numbers being "Igama La Bantwana, Mysterious Instinct and Water Bird" with the first two being only percussion backed and right here we have something very close to traditional African with great backing percussion, stunning African dialect vocals with the neccasary yips in between and the last of the three "Water Bird" has a beautiful old time African Zulu chant with Al's flute being the choice for the album here with just those short bursts in between the chants and percussion. The last three numbers are the Bobby Scott compositions which brings us back more to that spiritual theme with "Sorrow Valley" and two more songs to wind up the album being "Or Three Farm" being an African slavery style number that were often sung and written in desperation for better times and the strange selection of "Gonna Leave You Baby" to wind it up.
Essential not really. Interesting to a degree but will you play it? Sometimes for me, but I do prefer Ray Barretto doing what he does best Afro Cuban Jazz with lashings of improvision within. Collectors only and although there are some good sections and there are some where I could drift of for quite a nice sleep.