Monday, August 8, 2011

Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica Returns with "Third River Rangoon" Exotica

Mr. Ho, that purveyor of space-age music of the ('50's) future, occupied our attention some time ago on these pages with his Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, a fully realized retake on the lush mood orchestra/chorus sort of spectacular that some of our parents (fathers, mostly) graced their hifi with in the day.

He returns with a smaller group, taking an equally serious-fun look at the exotica of the era, Third River Rangoon (Tiki 002). This time it's Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and the smaller ensemble Les Baxter that come up under Mr. Ho's transformative gaze. The group centers around vibes and bass flute or c-flute, along with contrabass and percussion (plus oud on a couple of cuts).

To me the funny thing about this one is that it is almost TOO good. It is sophisticated, well composed/arranged with the flute-vibe sonority of long tones nicely contrasting with bass-percussion movement. There is less of the cheese factor that often came along with typical exotica of the era. It's almost as if Mr. Ho's love for the form, his respect for the genre, gives him the urge to make something respectable out of it all. Well, not entirely! There is a slightly tongue-in-cheek quality still.

Fact is, though, this is music that would have appealed to those of the era, yet manages to sound equally interesting today. I must say I find myself responding to the arrangements as if I were experiencing the music of some unknown backwater in exoticaland. That was the point of the original form of this genre. That Mr. Ho can convince us of the "authenticity" of this ersatz music and do it in such a way that our ears are stimulated, that seems doubly ironic.

Well it's not something I would expect myself to react to in such a way, but I approve! There's life left in all sorts of abandoned period genres mouldering in the junk shops of today. A creative musical personality like Mr. Ho has just the sort of brazen determination and playful sense of humor to make the music speak to US in this moment we live in. It is a pleasure to hear this one.

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