Alongside Les Baxter and Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman is one of the names synonymous with the genre that was / is “exotica”. The late `50s “faux tropical” phenomenon, birthed by Denny’s 1957 album of the same name, but instigated by Baxter’s Ritual Of The Savage in 1952. Ersatz soundtracks for armchair safaris and shangri-las. At the end of this month, Aloha Got Soul, will reissue the late, lamented, vibraphone and marimba maestro Lyman`s last solo commercial recording, the 1980 LP Island Vibes. A seamlessly segued suite of nine pieces, it consists almost exclusively of stripped back serenades for sampled, soothing, gently crashing, surf and Lyman`s trademark instruments. There are no strings, no percussion, no orchestration, just harmonic hymns and lullabies hammered out by his virtuoso four felt mallets on metal and wooden tongues. The odd steel sheet is shaken to mimic the thunder of electrical storms, or the roar of the torrent of a secluded waterfall. The even odder horn sounds, like that of an approaching pleasure cruiser, homing into view, heading for harbour, toward honeymoon hideaways, fantasy islands, and blue lagoons. Between the bucolic birdsong, Arthur’s dexterity describing individual raindrops – running rivulets on refreshed verdant foliage – ripples in rock-pools, calming eddies and currents, waves lapping at Bali Hai shores. Twinkling like stars at twilight, in places there are traces of Hawaii’s traditional song, as the set`s slinky, slow shimmy drifts deeper, and deeper, into a dream-like domain.
To my mind exotica was the first “ambient” music. When Martin Denny held a residency as hotel band leader in Honolulu – where he employed Lyman on vibes – the calls and cries of the local wildlife were incorporated, integral to their evening performances. The very definition of Eno`s idea of the environment becoming part of the composition. It`s also, certainly a psychedelia of sorts, in that it transports the listener to a landscape both alien and foreign – unless of course you’re lucky enough to live in Maui`s “Garden Of Eden”. The scenery summoned might not be not frazzled by LSD fractals or dancing with DMT`s green spirit, but I was plugged-in to this portable paradise as I braved a bustling, traffic-jammed, Tokyo crossing, and I was taken far away. It`s exactly this transportive power that attracted transgressive travellers, such as Throbbing Gristle / Psychic TV`s Genesis Breyer P-Orridge to the genre. These Tiki Lounge, cocktail “happy” hour, stress-busting transformations of `50s and `60s suburban homes, for sure, are a forerunner, of Californian new age`s meditative, musical medicine.
To compliment the Arthur Lyman reissue, Aloha Got Soul have also put together the retrospective, Hot Like Lava, focused on the instrumental output of contemporary 21st Century, Technicolor, exotica exponents, Don Tiki. This is a fully-functioning ten-piece big band so, unlike Lyman`s solo excursion, you`re treated to an orgy of orchestration – contrabass, flute, harp, harpsichord, piano, and flashy organ grind, xylophones like bashed skeleton bones, plus a plethora of percussion. Bongos, boo bam, Brazilian cuica, Cuban congas and güiro, timbales, and Tahitian log, all backing the the assorted jungle calls. On the evidence of the exhilarating, poly-rhythmic, Polynesian, and lively latin, explorations selected the outfit may just be the missing link between Martin Denny, Vegas sleaze, and (almost) modal, spiritual jazz.
Arthur Lyman`s Island Vibes, and Don Tiki`s Hot Like Lava, can be ordered directly from Aloha Got Soul. I`m in love with the artwork for both.
*Hot Like Lava comes with 3D specs.