Friday, May 21, 2010
Martin Denny - Exotica (1957) / Exotica II (1958)
Judge me if you must, but I make no secret of the fact that I love Exotica. In fact I can't get enough of it. It is a genre lost in time, existing for about a decade and then vanishing entirely forever (Okay, there was a brief revival in the 90's led by the band Combustible Edison, but honestly who remembers Combustible Edison?)
Martin Denny didn't invent Exotica. - that honor belongs to the great Les Baxter - but he gave it a name and brought it into its own as a full fledged style. For anyone who is unfamiliar with this style, it basically consists of incorporating world music motifs and instruments into Hollywood style lounge music in the shallowest way possible. Anyone interested in actual world music traditions should turn back now, because that's not what you're getting here. However, as offensive as this concept is to most music aficionados, it's hard to deny that the result has a charm all of its own and that has not been often duplicated.
The first of Denny's Exotica albums was born after some members of his band discovered they could imitate bird calls while playing their instruments (it should here be noted that the most prolific of these bird callers was Arthur Lyman, who would later go on to great success as an Exotica performer in his own right.) There's hardly a track here that doesn't feature some inventive whistling and chirping. Add to that the gentle rhythms and atmospheric percussion and you've got a bona fide lounge classic.
Denny's focus is generally on sounds from the South Pacific and Asia, but throughout his career he would also incorporate idioms from Africa, South America and pretty much anywhere else American audiences would find "Exotic." The CD reissue collects his first two albums onto one disc. It's nice to have the extra material, but there's no apparent change in style or direction across the two records. If you enjoy one, you will certainly enjoy the other. And if you enjoy relaxing with a tropical drink, it's hard to imagine a better soundtrack.