Exotica

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Exotica can range from silly campy novelty records for 'swingin bachelor pads' to more serious experimental blends of jazz, Latin rhythms, studio technology and modern orchestration. The JMA exotica genre excludes the former but welcomes the latter. Good examples of the more artistic practitioners of the Exotica genre include Martin Denny and Les Baxter. Both Denny and Baxter were accomplished jazz musicians who also drew on a wealth of other musical influences including French impressionistic composers, Afro-Cuban jazz and Polynesian percussion to create highly original and creative musical landscapes.

Other jazz influenced artists that might be found in the Exotica genre include: artists who record creative versions of well known pop songs, artists who juxtapose in-congruent styles in an ironic fashion, artists who have an anachronistic presentation and musical style, and artists who create unique recordings that do not fit easily into any standard genre. A final common element of many exotica artists is a sense of ironic kitsch, this element is easily recognized by fans of the genre, but may be too subtle for outsiders to recognize.

exotica top albums

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MARTIN DENNY Exotica Album Cover Exotica
MARTIN DENNY
4.94 | 5 ratings
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HERB ALPERT Whipped Cream & Other Delights Album Cover Whipped Cream & Other Delights
HERB ALPERT
4.93 | 3 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY Primitiva Album Cover Primitiva
MARTIN DENNY
4.95 | 2 ratings
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GABOR SZABO Belsta River Album Cover Belsta River
GABOR SZABO
4.95 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY Another Taste of Honey Album Cover Another Taste of Honey
MARTIN DENNY
4.95 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY A Taste of India Album Cover A Taste of India
MARTIN DENNY
4.90 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY A Taste of Honey (aka Martin Denny Goes Modern) Album Cover A Taste of Honey (aka Martin Denny Goes Modern)
MARTIN DENNY
4.90 | 2 ratings
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FRANKIE LAINE Hell Bent For Leather Album Cover Hell Bent For Leather
FRANKIE LAINE
4.90 | 2 ratings
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ANANDA SHANKAR Ananda Shankar Album Cover Ananda Shankar
ANANDA SHANKAR
4.71 | 4 ratings
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GABOR SZABO Spellbinder Album Cover Spellbinder
GABOR SZABO
4.50 | 3 ratings
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JOHN ZORN The Concealed: Esoteric Secrets and Hidden Traditions of the East Album Cover The Concealed: Esoteric Secrets and Hidden Traditions of the East
JOHN ZORN
4.50 | 3 ratings
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LES BAXTER Tamboo! Album Cover Tamboo!
LES BAXTER
4.49 | 3 ratings
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This list is in progress since the site is new. We invite all logged in members to use the "quick rating" widget (stars bellow album covers) or post full reviews to increase the weight of your rating in the global average value (see FAQ for more details). Enjoy JMA!

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exotica Music Reviews

KAI WINDING Soul Surfin (aka !!! More !!! (Theme From Mondo Cane))

Album · 1963 · Exotica
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Kai Winding was one of the best be-bop trombonists of the 1940s and 50s, playing with top notch bands like Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton, and cutting some highly acclaimed trombone duets with J.J. Johnson. Flash forward to the late 50s and bop wasn’t paying the bills anymore so Kai started turning more to pop offerings to make ends meet. In 1963 Kai released “Soul Surfin”, a fairly successful pop/rock-n-roll record that spawned a major hit with “More” from the movie “Mondo Cane”. You could call this a ‘rock’ record, but its orchestrated rock, more in line with pop big bands like Quincy Jones and Henry Mancicni, not the harder street sounds of Link Wray or Dick Dale. Needless to say, to modern ears this is not so much a rock record as it fits much more with what has been dubbed exotica or lounge music. It’s the sound of the swingin 60s in a suburbia styleee. The album title implies that Kai is mixing surf music and soul jazz on here, and that’s partially true, but that blend is somewhat filtered through an orchestrated easy listening format. Some of the tunes rock, but its not a teenager’s rock, instead, its rock for the double martini business lunch crowd and Las Vegas lounge sharks.

Kai is not the only big jazz star on here, the great Kenny Burrell is also on hand supplying all the requisite surf guitar licks and doing his best to channel Duane Eddy, and maybe its no big surprise that Kenny is great at this sort of thing. One of the biggest pluses on here is the production, the early 60s was the glory days of “hi-fidelity”, and this album still sounds great. Just the right amount of reverb makes everything sound massive, especially the trombone section. The best cuts on here include the one’s where they get creative with the orchestrations, sometimes adding a Ondoline to the mix. The Ondoline, much like the Ondes Martenot, is a French pre-synthesizer keyboard that sounds a bit like a theremin. Exotica collectors will want to check out, “China Nights”, “Surf Bird”, “Spinner” and “Hearse Ride”, all of which include creative orchestrations. The downside of this album are some songs that have been recorded way too many times, including; “Pipeline”, “Sukiyaki” and “More”. As is typical with these albums, the one ‘almost jazz’ cut comes at the end when they play a somewhat surf version of Herbie Mann’s “Comin Home Baby”, with short solos for both Kai and Kenny. Jazz fans and admirers of Winding’s bop skills will want to stay clear of this record, but the fans of the space-age bachelor pad vibe will find a lot to like on “Soul Surfin”.

LEO DIAMOND Subliminal Sounds

Album · 1960 · Exotica
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Anyone interested in bizarre music needs to know about Leo Diamond’s “Subliminal Sounds”, there is no other record like this weird mix of incongruous elements. Leo Diamond was a virtuoso on an unlikely instrument, the harmonica. Despite his choice of ‘axxe’, Diamond made a good living as one of the top harmonica players of his day. He also worked in writing and arranging and had a huge easy listening hit with “Off Shore”. Diamond’s taste in music leaned towards banal, and even tacky pop, but this was leavened by an unlikely interest in expanded musical forms and studio electronics. In 1956 he released “Skin Diver Suite”, a bizarre third stream concoction that alternated between extreme Hollywood schmaltz and creepy ‘watery’ sound effects. At times overly sentimental, and at other times just plain disturbing, this one needs to be heard to be believed.

After “Skin Diver Suite”, Diamond released a few pop albums and then came the album in question here, “Subliminal Sounds”. The title already sounds creepy and Diamond doesn’t disappoint as he presents twelve mostly corny arrangements of pop standards that are cloaked in ‘subliminal’ electronic sound effects. For the first couple of minutes, this album is absolutely fascinating as you hear Diamond’s weird and subtle effects, but then you realize many of these tunes are almost unbearable, thus the Diamond dichotomy. Easily the tunes on here that work the best are the one’s that lean in a more exotica direction, that would include “Jungle Drums”, “Dream Train” and “House of Dreams”, meanwhile some of the more sentimental fare gets tiresome right quick.

Despite a couple of really good exotica tracks, this album doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention from the weird music collectors, that’s why you can still find it for cheap occasionally at thrift stores. People who appreciate David Lynch’s idea of wholesome ‘normalcy’ gone berserk may also appreciate Leo’s musical vision.

DENNY MCLAIN Denny McLain At The Organ

Album · 1969 · Exotica
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Is it an album cover, or is it a vintage baseball card? The cover of Denny McLain’s “At the Organ” certainly looks more like a 60s baseball card than your usual jazzy LP. For those who don’t know him, Denny McLain was a star baseball pitcher who also played cheezy lounge music on the Hammond B3. At the height of his baseball career, he was allowed to capitalize on his sports popularity by releasing a couple of albums. If he had not been a star athlete, I don’t think these recordings would have ever found their way on to a Capitol release. An interesting and flamboyant individual, McLain was rowdy and outspoken and often involved with mobsters and illegal gambling. Living a life that was more like the gangster 20s than the hippiefied 60s, McLain would eventually serve jail time for a variety of charges.

Having said all that, this album is not a joke or a total fluke, instead, McLain has some decent chops on the Hammond (the new X77 model on this album) as he plays some of his favorite pop and lounge tunes accompanied by a couple horns and a rhythm section. McLain does not take any solos, but his melodic playing is done in a full chordal style similar to George Shearing on the piano. As Denny plays the melodies he displays much creativity in utilizing the tools of the Hammond, such as constantly changing sounds and textures with the drawbars, and those dramatic swoops that come from sweeping your hands up the keyboard. No doubt, McLain had plenty of previous playing experience before he recorded these tracks.

Most of these tracks are fairly corny pop tunes, and would probably only appeal to hardcore exotica collectors, but there are few cuts where McLain shows a slightly weirder side. “Hurdy Gurdy Man” uses a proto trip hop beat while McLain plays the psychedelic chords of Donvan’s tune with an odd stuttering attack. “Cherish” has a baffling bizarre arrangement that keeps shifting tempos, and on “By the Time I get to Phoenix”, McLain eschews the melody and just outlines the chords in a more psychedelic fashion. Hearing these odder cuts does make you wonder what sort of untapped potential lies within the mind of Denny McLain.

Although McLain has some decent skills on the keyboard, I think most jazz fans would run from this recording in horror, this is definitely more for collectors of exotica and weird pop music. The exotica revival has been very good for McLain’s legacy as he was mostly forgotten as a musician until his tracks started showing up on mid-90s exotica revival collections such as “Organs in Orbit” and other space age bachelor pad type compilations.

LAURINDO ALMEIDA Viva Bossa Nova!

Album · 1962 · Exotica
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Although Laurindo Almeida was involved in many top notch authentic Bossa Nova albums, he was hardly a purist and didn’t mind mixing pop elements with Bossa Nova with the intent of reaching a broader audience. Such is the case with “Viva Bossa Nova!” from 1962, the rhythms are pure Bossa Nova, and they are expertly played, but the melodies come from popular movies and TV shows. Adding to the early 60s pop appeal is Jimmy Rowles playing a beautifully cheezy electric organ, the ultimate in ‘lounge cool’ in this pre-hippie era. It all adds up, real Bossa Nova fans may not dig this, but its perfect for fans of exotica and 60s bachelor pad mystique.

Although this was mostly meant to be a pop album, none of these excellent musicians checked their creativity and talent at the door. All of the arrangements are varied and interesting and almost every tune provides a solo or two. Some top tune honors go to “Maria”, with a great sax solo from Bob Cooper, and “Petite Le Fleur” with a beautiful bass flute melody from Justin Gordon. “Mr Lucky” and “Theme from Route 66” are also successes in arrangement and execution. Throughout this album, Almeida and his producers stay away from overplayed tunes and the kind of super corny songs that can often drag these kind of records down. “Moon River” is probably the only song close to that category, everything else on here sounds fairly fresh.

Although the choice of songs pushes this album more in a pop/exotica type direction, the high musicianship and general good-taste in presentation might make this appealing to fans of real Bossa Nova too.

BO HANSSON Mellanväsen (aka Attic Thoughts)

Album · 1975 · Exotica
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Because he scored a cult hit early in his career with an album of music “inspired by The Lord of the Rings”, Bo Hanson has always been lumped in with the art rock crowd, which is unfortunate because the people who would probably appreciate his music more are fans of incidental music, soundtracks, adverts and things like that. "Mellanvasm" aka “Attic Thoughts”, like Hanson’s other albums, consists of short instrumentals on which he plays most of the instruments via multi-tracking creating a very personal sound. As mentioned earlier, soundtrack music makes for a good reference to Hanson’s sound, you could also include the exotic pop instrumentals of Brian Wilson and George Martin. Some cuts also recall 60s lounge pop-jazz, the sort of sound that had a revival during the initial acid jazz phase.

Hanson creates his personal sound stories using a plethora of analog keyboards (as well as guitars etc) making this album a good one for those who enjoy the sound of 70s instrumental keyboard based exotic albums such as Augustas Pablo’s “East of the River Nile’ or Les McCann’s "Layers". I have heard Hanson’s music used in acid jazz mixes, so there are some out there who recognize where Hanson’s music might find a good fit. Hopefully more soundtrack and exotica fans will discover this unique and 'charming' music.

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