Sunday, February 1, 2015


After passing two weeks in the beautiful and vast world of François de Roubaix, and working so hard on my theme 02, I was a bit anxious to know what would be next for the theme 03.  What if I had picked "Ennio Morricone" back to back with de Roubaix? No respite!

Although I did a thoughtful job with the selection of the 22 themes of this project, by choosing a great variety of genres and influences, I can't predict the order in which they will appear. And that's the funny part!

But finally, the next theme picked by our lovely Lisa, very much appropriated with her dressing, is : Exotica.

Oh, cool it sounds like a relief.

Well, Exotica is maybe one of the most misunderstood genres of music. Politely described as 'Tropical Jazz', it also bears the term -not always with good intent, of 'Easy Listening'. If we really want to be ill-intentionned, let's have a look to the definition given by the All-Music website "(…) exotica's primary concern is lightweight entertainment, gathering readily identifiable ethnic sounds into a smooth, easily digested pop form. The music typically conjures up images of exotic foreign tourist destinations geared toward white Americans, and in that sense, it's sort of the equivalent of a pre-packaged resort …"
Not a very positive view.

But I'm sure that you have learnt not to trust the right-minded cultural critics unable to put aside their cynical views or concerns about social acceptance. They are certainly not the ones who told you to dig the obscure Stelvio Cipriani soundtracks (no in fact it's me who told you, haha)!

Ok, yeah there's a lot of awful exotica music out there. But that is true for any genre.

We'd better listen to one of the most avant-garde, eclectic and prolific artists of the last 30 years, John Zorn, what he has to say in this interview about one of his primary sources of influence :

JazzTimes: Let’s talk about the Dreamers. I was delightfully surprised by this group. Where is this charming music coming from?
John Zorn: Well, it comes from my love for music that does delight and charm. I am a big fan of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, the pioneers of exotica. I’ve been a fan of that music since I was young. It was part of my upbringing; it’s there. You can hear elements of it here and there in my music over time. You hear it in Bar Kokhba; even in things like Godard and Spillane there are moments that sound like that. This Dreamers project, I think, was bringing together all of these beautiful musics that I love, from world music to surf music to exotica music to different kinds of funk and blues. I put all of these things together and created something that, for me, was meant to charm and delight.

"Charm and delight". That is two words I'd rather choose to describe what this music is intent for, slightly more respectful than the All-Music's "lightweight entertainment" description. Certainly a matter of point of view and it's true that in this cynical age, it can be difficult to take the "charm and delight" to the first degree and let yourself be charmed by the simple beauty of music.

Anyway, I'll stick with John Zorn fascination for this genre (and we could also include his good body, Mike Patton, also a fan). For instance, Les Baxter music is everything except the ignorant definition of All-Music. He certainly was a master of his art, a great orchestrator and composer. He defined the genre already with his first album in back in 1951 (!), Ritual of the Savage. Here's one cool track from this album.

So, did I say it will be an easy theme? Well, I will definitively have to work out some nice tropical textures, or what others may ear as "readily identifiable ethnic sounds into a smooth, easily digested pop form"...
Easier said than done.

In the meantime, I'll let you with one of my favorites Library Music tracks (because you know I've been a lot into it recently), from one holy grail LP, Jungle Obsession (1971) : Tropical by Nino Nardino, a track of post-exotica before it's time, if I can say so. Certainly a starting point for my next theme!…

Also, great  piece of music (live) by John Zorn featuring Marc Ribot on guitar and fully influenced by Exotica music.

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