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Exotica can range from silly kitsch 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.

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MARTIN DENNY Exotica Album Cover Exotica
4.94 | 5 ratings
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HERB ALPERT Whipped Cream & Other Delights Album Cover Whipped Cream & Other Delights
4.93 | 3 ratings
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JANKO NILOVIC Rythmes Contemporains Album Cover Rythmes Contemporains
4.98 | 2 ratings
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GABOR SZABO Belsta River Album Cover Belsta River
4.95 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY Primitiva Album Cover Primitiva
4.95 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY Another Taste of Honey Album Cover Another Taste of Honey
4.95 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY A Taste of India Album Cover A Taste of India
4.90 | 2 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY A Taste of Honey Album Cover A Taste of Honey
4.90 | 2 ratings
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FRANKIE LAINE Hell Bent For Leather Album Cover Hell Bent For Leather
4.90 | 2 ratings
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ANANDA SHANKAR Ananda Shankar Album Cover Ananda Shankar
4.71 | 4 ratings
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LALO SCHIFRIN There's a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin' On (aka Experience) Album Cover There's a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin' On (aka Experience)
5.00 | 1 ratings
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DAZIE MAE Dazie Mae Album Cover Dazie Mae
5.00 | 1 ratings
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exotica Music Reviews

KORLA PANDIT The Universal Language Of Music, Volume 1

Album · 1954 · Exotica
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Our review today involves a talented young African-American jazz pianist from the US south who decided to boost his fledgling career by fabricating for himself a far away exotic birthplace, and an equally exotic new name and attire to go with that alleged birthplace. Now you may be thinking this must be Sonny Blount aka Sun Ra, but instead it is the lesser known John Roland Redd, otherwise known as Korla Pandit from ‘New Delhi‘. Redd was a promising young piano player who was actually from Hannibal Missouri before he decided to move to Los Angelas, first re-naming himself Juan Rolando, and then settling on becoming Korla Pandit, an ‘Indian’ man complete with jeweled turban and all. In the early 50s, Pandit would appear on TV in LA playing a mix of classical excerpts, jazz standards and exotic originals on the Hammond organ while staring directly at the camera without saying a word. For the US in the early 50s, this was unique to say the least. Some credit Pandit with being the creator of the strange genre that became known as exotica and certainly his records, along with the first records by Les Baxter, are some of the earliest recordings in this style.

“The Universal Language of Music Volume 1” is typical of an early Pandit record as it contains some classical excerpts (Clare de Lune" etc), a couple standards ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow" etc) and a few supposed “Indian” tunes composed by Pandit. The alleged Indian tunes don’t sound much like music from India, but more like cheezy belly dancing music from a 50s LA nightclub. Korla often accompanies these exotic melodies by playing the lower keyboard on the Hammond with an open palm producing a sort of electronic bongo drum beat. No matter what Pandit plays, he provides the sort of melodramatic swoops and swells that were common to lounge organ players during that time period. In between the tunes, an unidentified dramatic voice recites corny poetry and trite stories that pre-date new age snake oil 'gurus'.

Getting back to our Sun Ra comparison, I would not be surprised if Sonny pulled some influence from Pandit. For example, on the track “Stormy Weather”, Korla precedes the tune with his idea of a chaotic storm on the keyboard with lots swelling dissonant chords, its avant-garde music gone dramatically cornball and its just humorously excessive enough to sound like Ra himself.

I am sure you have already determined that this record is not for everyone, even some exotica fans may be disappointed in the murky recorded sound, but to some collectors of odd music, that murky sound can only add to this record’s strange appeal. No doubt Pandit’s playing is not a joke, he was an extremely talented performer who could have played whatever he wanted, he’s just one of those quirky individuals who took the path less traveled.


Album · 1969 · Exotica
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Sean Trane
Having left the Impulse! label, Szabo signed for the more obscure Blue Thumb label to release a fairly uninteresting string of albums, including the present 1969, which you guessed it, was released that very same year. Despite the exuberant turning of the decade era, Gabor seemed to miss out on the power and demented freedom of the times. Despite a promising almost-Folon inner sleeve artwork, it seems that the west-coast soft-jazz spirit had overwhelmed him, and musicians like bassist Kabok and drummer Keltner seemed to dominate the potential power of the organ, played by Melvoin.

Yes, we’re definitely in a west-coast jazz, not too far from what the CTI label would make its bread and bitter in the following years. Little wonder that Gabor would also release albums for that label a few years later. But for the present, we’re dealing with low-energy jazz-pop, sometimes reminiscent of rearranged Beatles tunes (doh!!!) that would fit supermarket or elevator background music. The only time the album comes alive, is in the album-closing raga-esque and aptly-titled Somewhere I Belong. Indeed Gabor, too bad it took you a whole album to return to your natural grounds. A real snoozefest and IMHO, best avoided, though its main merit is that it won’t irritate more your eardrums than your discernment.


Album · 1966 · Exotica
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Sean Trane
It was inevitable that such a wide-ranging and far-reaching artiste like Szabo would eventually record for that awesome Impulse! label and Jazz Raga fits somewhat in with the world tendencies of the label. Indeed, JR is one of the best examples of Indo-jazz fusion alongside the London-scene stalwarts Amancio D’Silva and John Mayer. Out of the 11 tracks, five are recorded in a trio format, and the rest are in an expanded quintet with a second guitarist (to free up Gabor on sitar) and a tabla player. For the most part, the quintet tracks are concentrated on the A-side, while the trio tracks are the majority of the flipside.

All but three tracks were Szabo compositions, but it’s rather clear that the three covers would pull a lot of attention. Indeed, past an anecdotic (despite the quintet) Paint It Black, Duke’s Caravan and Gerschwin’s Summertime, the former receiving stupendous (then-) modern trio arrangements, the latter being more surprising with its sitar intervention. OK, now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at the meat of the album.

The opening Walking On Nails reflects a gentle-almost Beatles-like melody over a psychey sitar & drums and filtered vocals. Mizrab (named after the tabla player’s Indian moniker) is much more credible in terms of Indo-jazz fusion, precisely because of the tabla percussions. The Nirvana piece is an amazing upbeat guitar and sitar piece that will drive you bonkers, while Krishna will give you a happy serenity. After the delicate Raga Doll, Coming Back has a quasi rockabilly feel, which announces that Rolling Stones cover. Even wilder and more energetic, Sophisticated Wheels oozes more of a raga rock than a raga jazz.

Definitely one of Gabor’s best album in the 60’s and a milestone in the Indo-jazz fusion genre, Jazz Raga is not a typical Impulse! label product, and yet it’s a minor classic, even though its rock aura already announces the jazz-rock that will overtake the jazz world by the turn of the decade.

JULIE LONDON Yummy, Yummy, Yummy

Album · 1969 · Exotica
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In 1966, Julie recorded a smoky, sultry version of The Mickey Mouse Club March for her Nice Girls Don't Stay For Breakfast album.

In a way, that seemingly incongruous paring was a forerunner to what was to be her last album - both for Liberty, and, in general.

1969's Yummy, Yummy, Yummy - produced, arranged and orchestrated by Tommy Oliver, who discovered Joanie Summers and had worked with a variety of artists including Doris Day, Vikki Carr, Bob Lind and Jefferson Airplane.

With this Julie London album, his arrangements were full and lush, and Julie was every bit the stylist she ever was, but the material was far more contemporary and mainstream than anything she had yet attempted.

As time passed from it's initial release, the album faded, and, was only known of by collectors - of rarities, exotica, etc. I found out about the album in about '92, from Re/Search # 15, Incredibly Strange Music, Vol. 2.

I remember reading of the seeming incongruity of paring Ms. London - with her smoky, intimate voice, and (then) current pop.

WHile it wasn't outright laughed at by the author, it wasn't looked at with anything close to seriousness.

As this was before the internet - and CD's, while they exited, did NOT have a large selection, never mind out-of-print collector's choices, I had to look for Yummy. Yummy, Yummy (Y,Y,Y) on vinyl. Not a problem for me.

When I finally tracked the album down, I remember I was taken aback.

On listening to Louie, Louie, I immediately felt it sounded like a very early version of what would be called 'trance' music.

It begins with a bass guitar, piano opening, followed by a Moog synthesiser and a drum - playing a languorous beat - that goes on, only stopping for the song's vocal break.

I don't want to give a track-by-track overview. I wanted to highlight what is one of the album's main songs, and briefly discuss the album, as a whole.

I don't know whether Ms. London took recording the album seriously, or not. I would guess that, Ms. London - being a consummate professional - gave it her all, whatever her thoughts, and it shows.

I read somewhere (else) a person's one line review. He said: 'who wants to hear a middle-aged woman doing covers?'

I'd answer him by saying, it's irrelevant the person's age. It's their talent, and the end-result.

I think a big problem (that's only gotten worse over time), is people being dismissive of anyone who's not ridiculously young.

It's only with age, that a person's developed their craft - honed it.

Sure, sometimes the end result can be awful.

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy is NOT that case.

I like to think that Ms.London saw a bit of irony in it, but, as I said earlier, she gives it her best, and it's worth it.

BETTY SMITH My Foolish Heart

Album · 1959 · Exotica
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I was looking through some of the more remote parts of my record collection and came across this odd retro album cover and realized I had no idea what this record sounded like, much less how I had acquired it. Doing some quick research on the internet I noticed this album selling for fairly high, as well as moderately low prices sometimes, and yet I could not find a review for it.

Betty Smith was a tenor saxophonist who came up through Britain’s big band circuit in the 1950s. Over the years she became quite an entertainer, often fronting large ensembles by mixing her saxophone solos with jazzy vocals and even raunchy humor. She became known as the girl with “sax appeal”. Her soulful sound on the tenor has been compared to Bud Freeman and Eddie Miller and no matter what style of music she is playing, her roots in swing always come through.

Although Betty came up through the swing band tradition, during the latter part of her career she often paid the bills with instrumental pop recordings. “My Foolish Heart” is one of those classic late 50s/early 60s tenor sax instrumental pop/rock-n-roll ballad records, the kind of music that used to play when radio stations would sign off, or that was used to introduce and close the late night movie on TV. The arrangements on here are spiced up with backing wordless vocals, swanky instrumentation and enough tasteful kitsch to make it appealing to the exotica collector. Like most pop music from this era, there is a doo-wop influence which shows in some of the backing vocals as well as the subtle repeating triplets on the piano. The recording quality and production on “My Foolish Heart” is excellent, if you like this sort of retro instrumental album, go for it.

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