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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.

Although the age of tiki lounges has long passed, artists who can be labeled as exotica still exist. Many of today's exotica practitioners create colorful and often psychedelic instrumental tracks similar in length to a pop song. The use of analog synthesizers, vintage keyboards and effects are often common as well. Many of today's exotica artists came up through the trip-hop scene. Recent exotica artists include ROOT and Julian Julien.

exotica top albums

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MARTIN DENNY Exotica Album Cover Exotica
4.82 | 5 ratings
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FRANKIE LAINE Hell Bent For Leather Album Cover Hell Bent For Leather
4.91 | 3 ratings
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ANANDA SHANKAR Ananda Shankar Album Cover Ananda Shankar
4.79 | 5 ratings
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HERB ALPERT Whipped Cream & Other Delights Album Cover Whipped Cream & Other Delights
4.75 | 3 ratings
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LES BAXTER Tamboo! Album Cover Tamboo!
4.50 | 4 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
4.50 | 3 ratings
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GABOR SZABO Spellbinder Album Cover Spellbinder
4.50 | 3 ratings
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GABOR SZABO Mizrab Album Cover Mizrab
4.42 | 5 ratings
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JULIE LONDON Yummy, Yummy, Yummy Album Cover Yummy, Yummy, Yummy
4.50 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY Another Taste of Honey Album Cover Another Taste of Honey
4.50 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY Primitiva Album Cover Primitiva
4.50 | 2 ratings
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GABOR SZABO More Sorcery Album Cover More Sorcery
4.50 | 2 ratings
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Album · 1966 · Exotica
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siLLy puPPy
Now here’s a little oddity from the 60s in celebration of the life of the great Adam West who played the first BATMAN on the 60s campy tongue-in-cheek TV series. Due to the popularity of the series it seems that everyone was trying to make a buck off of it and this relic from 1966 was brought to life by a New Jersey toy company trying to get in on the action. After all everyone was getting a piece of this pie by latching on to that catchy theme song riff and and that famous na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na sing-along theme track. Amongst those copping a feel were Neal Hefti, The Who, The Kinks, Jan and Dean, Link Wray, Nelson Riddle, The Marketts, The Ventures, Bruce & The Robin Rockers, The “V” Rangers, The Revengers, Bob Kuban & The In-Men, Al Caiola & His Orchestra, The Standells and Sun Ra. Wait a minute? Whaaaat? SUN RA?

Yes! Sun Ra but only under the guise of THE SENSATIONAL GUITARS OF DAN & DALE which included Sun Ra himself along with members of his Arkestra. Together they teamed up Al Kooper’s Blues Project and created this album marketed towards children with catchy surf guitar rhythms based around themes on the BATMAN TV series and the album title being BATMAN AND ROBIN. Although anonymous on the album it is known that Sun Ra performed on the organ, along with his Arkestra mates John Gilmore and Marshall Allen on saxes, Jimmy Owens on trumpet and Tom McIntosh on trombone. From the Blues Project Steve Katz and Danny Kalb played guitars.

Since this was a money grab of sorts, the Tifton label taylor made for this project decided in order to keep licensing fees as well as royalties to a minimum, all the tracks except for the “Batman Theme” itself were based on whatever was in the public domain therefore everything from Chopin’s “Polaise Op. 53,” Tchaikovsky’s “Fifth Symphony” and the love theme from Romeo and Juliet were pirated and arranged into generic rock ’n roll and surf guitar riffs that sometimes sounded suspiciously too close to contemporary popular music icons like The Beatles (“The Riddler’s Retreat” comes a little too close to “She Loves You’s” signature melodic touches.) While most of the tracks are instrumental rock ’n roll jams, there are a couple tracks including the “Batman Theme” that have an uncredited vocalist who hits all the right notes so gracefully that i wish she were included on more of the tracks!

The whole incarnation known as DAN & DALE is a little murky as they released a whole slew of substandard releases and it’s unknown but rather dubious that either Sun Ra or Blues Project had anything to do with them. Don’t in anyway expect anything close to the extraterrestrial space jazz that Sun Ra & His Arkestra were churning out by the minute in the same time period of the 60s. This album was designed for kids and is nothing more than kitschy garage rock mixed with surf rock and space age pop albeit with some jazzy touches but what a fun little collection of numbers they churned out as the band takes bland and seemingly uninspired titles such as “Batman and Robin Over The Roofs” and add life to them with a tasteful masterful musicianship that adds a zest to the simple songs like only true professionals can.

While i wouldn’t call this a long lost masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, i can recommend this if you want to feel like you’ve fallen into an Austin Powers movie that simulates the era and in the midst of the groovy light shows in a smoked filled nightclub setting you can imagine this groovy music playing in the background while wild stoned-out hippie chicks are dancing the Watusi, the Hully Gully or just free floating across the dance floor! For a kids’ based album this one is real treat to listen to and one that has all the sweeter taste having the great Sun Ra & his Arkestra members involved.

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.


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.

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