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Tamboo!

Les Baxter

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Album Review

Long before the term "world music" leaped into the lexicon, pianist, composer, and arranger Les Baxter was plundering the globe in search of new sounds with which to entice listeners. Having already single-handedly invented space pop, with his pioneering use of the theremin in the early '50s, Baxter turned from Music Out of the Moon back to this planet, with a stream of albums that captured Earth's more exotic styles. Tamboo! was his epiphany, a set that circled the globe, but was presented in a wildly accessible style that even your gran would love. In many ways the music is reminiscent of the Technicolor Hollywood visions of foreign climes, à la South Pacific and other such films. But that's not surprising, considering the amount of music Baxter composed for Tinsel Town, and it certainly helped make this album so appealing. The bright and bustling "Havana" beautifully captures the excitement and allure of the pre-revolutionary capital, while "Tehran" wafts of exotic mystery, dancing girls, and whirling dervishes. In contrast, the effervescent "Cuchibamba" hints at Latin America's indigenous roots, and "Rio" at its sophistication and glamour. But it's the many African-inspired numbers that are the most intriguing — the desert wind which seems to haunt the "Oasis of Dakhla," the tribal drumming which invades "Mozambique" and sweeps across the "Zambezi." Even at his most exotic, however, Baxter encapsulates all these elements in a Western context, his lavish orchestral arrangements and rich melodies taking the strangeness out of even the most alien foreign styles. It's brilliantly done, and helped to broaden American minds and widen musical views.

Biography

Born: 14 March 1922 in Detroit, MI

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Les Baxter is a pianist who composed and arranged for the top swing bands of the '40s and '50s, but he is better known as the founder of exotica, a variation of easy listening that glorified the sounds and styles of Polynesia, Africa, and South America, even as it retained the traditional string-and-horn arrangements of instrumental pop. Exotica became a massively popular trend in the '50s, with thousands of record buyers listening to Baxter,...
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