Savage Rituals: Jungle Exotica



Ritual of the Savage Les Baxter (Capitol) Baxter's "tone poem of the sound and the struggle of the jungle" is the prototypical jungle exotica album and set the standard for others to follow. It also provided exotica with its anthem, "Quiet Village". Baxter's is a peculiarly stateless jungle, with hints of the dark Congo ("Love Dance"), the South Pacific ("Busy Port"), Central America ("Stone God"), the Amazon ("Jungle Flower"), and Tujunga Canyon ("The Ritual").

Themes for African Drums Guy Warren (RCA Victor) Guy Warren was perhaps the only jungle exotica artist who could make a serious claim for authenticity. A native of Ghana, he emigrated to the U.S. and recorded this and several other albums that featured African percussion in relatively unadorned settings.

Primitive Percussion, African Jungle Drums Thurston Knudson (Reprise) Thurston Knudson was clearly not a native African, but at least he had some genuine musicological field work in his background, having made recordings of indigenous music from Tahiti and other South Pacific islands as far back as the 1930s.

Jungle Echoes Chaino and His African Percussion Safari (Omega) Born Leon Johnson in Chicago, Chaino may not have been born in a jungle, but he was certainly an American wild man. His spirit found its echo in African percussion and rhythms, and when he recorded this and other similar albums in the late 1950s and 1960s, he may have believed in the image and world he had created for himself every bit as much as a genuine native.

Fire Goddess Webley Edwards (Capitol) Edwards was a haole impresario who hired native Hawaiian musicians, then toned down their music to appeal to continental U.S. audiences. Fire Goddess, with its dramatic cover featuring a demonic-looking woman holding two strategically located burning gourds or coconuts, is something of a departure from his usual fare. Less "Hawaiian War Chant" and more just plain chant, you might say. The contents don't live up to the cover, though, as there's less fire than smoke in this rather monotonous combination of authentic instruments and rhythms and ersatz jungle themes.

Orienta The Markko Polo Adventurers (RCA Victor) In contrast, the Markko Polo Adventurers were 100% fake and completely entertaining, a band of Hollywood studio musicians led by arranger/composer Gerald Fried and armed with just about every drum and other primitive-looking thing you could beat on that they could find in the studio warehouses.

Pagan Love Stanley Wilson Fried's boss at Universal Studios, Wilson couldn't resist primitive temptations, either, and created this often delicate pastiche, quite a change from his work on "M Squad" and other shoot-em-ups.

Voodoo! (also known as Exotic Percussion), Robert Drasnin (Tops) Emerging briefly from the depths of studio anonymity, Drasnin employed a small combo of crack West Coast jazz/studio vets to create what may well be the finest of these jungle exotica albums in terms of musical quality. Drasnin manages to be every bit as colorful as Baxter with far more subtle effects. Voodoo has been reissued twice on CD already, once as Exotic Excursion on a budget label and once with high quality remastering and packaging on Dionysus. Pagan Festival, Dominic Frontiere (Columbia) Yet another studio hand, Frontiere penned this tribute to the spirit of Baxter's Ritual of the Savage.

Voice of the Xtabay Yma Sumac (Capitol) Yma Sumac is certainly not Brooklyn housewife Amy Camus, but just how authentic her purported Incan roots are has never been easy to determine. One thing's for sure, though: the Xtabay never set foot outside the Capitol Records recording studio in Hollywood. Working with compositions written by ersatz jungle master Les Baxter, Sumac sums up all the struggles and passions of a fictional tribe in her four-octave range. My theory is that "Xtabay" is pig Latin for Baxter.

Voodoo Suite Perez Prado and Shorty Rogers (RCA Victor) Another demonstration of what might be thought of as the "Exotic Theorem": namely, that the sum of two fakes is the genuine article. Rogers, on his way from The Cool and the Crazy to the sober and sane security of studio work, combines with Prado's crack band and his grunts of mysterious origin to create a wild album with frenzied drumming, primal screams, and instinctual melodies--every bit as authentic as Tarzan or King Kong.

Voodoo! Richard Hayman (Mercury) In between Boston Pops jobs, Hayman takes a quick trip to Haiti and returns with a respectably exotic blend of Santeria and Carmen Miranda. If that doll with the pins in it on the cover isn't the real thing, what is?

Jungle Drums Morton Gould (RCA Victor) Gould, who never ventured too far from the world of classical and light orchestral music, undermines the promise of the title with a relatively tame compilation of instrumentals with tropical themes, spiced up with a discreet pinch of exotic percussion courtesy of Carroll Music instrument rentals in Manhattan.

Bwana 'A Arthur Lyman (HiFi) There's a shrunken head on the most collectable version of this album, but inside is more of Lyman's genuine suburban Hawaiian music, recorded in Henry Kaiser very space age pop-ish aluminum dome near his Hawaii Kai real estate development.