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A Listener's Guide

Sophisticated Savages: Jungle Jazz


Hypnotique, Martin Denny (Liberty)
It may be reckless to try to pick this as Denny's best album, but among the string of albums released between 1958 and 1961, "Hypnotique" offers the most varied selection of tunes and some of the most unusual approaches to instrumentation and interpretation, as well as some of Denny's best jazz piano work.

Leis of Jazz, Arthur Lyman (HiFi)
Lyman downplays the jungle noises and plays up his vibes chops, attempting to compete with mainland mainstream jazz stars like Milt Jackson and Cal Tjader. Loses the jazz battle, but provides one of the less monotonous (sorry, I am not an early Lyman fan) albums of his pre-swingin' sixties era.

Sophisticated Savage, Augie Colon (Liberty)
Denny's original percussionist strikes out on his own on Denny's own label (that's loyalty for you!), with an album both less sophisticated and more savage than any by his former combo leader.

Lotus Land, Gene Rains Group (Decca)
Although clearly inspired by Denny, Rains' piano style is much more rooted in classical than jazz. The result is, perhaps, more exotic and atmospheric and less redolent of paneled basements and other bachelor pad accoutrements. Very subtle--good for making out, great for conking out.

Black Coral, Rene Paulo Trio (HiFi)
Think of Rene Paulo as Martin Denny without the squawks or Arthur Lyman without the vibes ("without the vibes?"). Or as Irving Fields Goes to Waikiki. Paulo on piano, with bass and drums, quietly offering a mix of familiar and original pieces fresh off the beach. Does not include cocktail umbrella.

Exotic Islands, The Surfmen (Somerset)
Also released as Tradewinds Romance from Hawaii to Tahiti. The Surfmen were a session-men super group from Hollywood that included Jimmy Rowles on piano, Alvino Rey on console guitar, Jack Costanzo on bongos and other percussion, and Larry Bunker on drums.

Surfer's Paradise, Alex Keack (Crown)
A former member of the Islanders, a Hawaiian version of the Four Freshmen, Keack provides Crown with one of its few legitimate quality recordings with a gentle, sophisticated small combo sound not too far removed from the model of master Martin Denny.

Aloha to Jazz, The Polynesians/Buddy Collette (Bel Canto)
The Polynesians are a fairly conventional Hawaiian combo, but multi-reed jazz man Collette's side may well represent the best work in this sub-genre. Almost impossible to find, but worth it for the music and the beautiful deep blue vinyl. Like having a little lagoon on your turntable.

Exotic Dreams, Ethel Azama (Liberty)
Hawaii's greatest jazz singer--although the competition isn't that tough. Azama has a striking style that hits or misses, depending on your taste. But she stakes out sole claim to her small piece of turf with a sound that at its best is like a mix of Sarah Vaughan and Yma Sumac.

Paradise Island, The Paradise Island Trio (Decca)
These guys came from the island of Nashville and included legendary countrypolitan producer Owen Bradley on steel guitar. At times you may think you're listening to that long-lost Three Suns Hawaiian album.

Night at the Beachcomber, John Adomono (Decca)
Cashing in on the exotica craze, Decca captured solo guitarist Adomono reprising on vinyl his regular gig at Don the Beachcomber's, one of the most popular nightclubs on Waikiki. Most of his material, though, is more akin to Laurindo Almeida's than Martin Denny's, with acoustical interpretations of "Malaguena" and other Latin numbers.


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