Classic Day – King Of Exotica

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While film scores are not something that often even grace the record player personally, there is something that is both fascinating and somehow reminiscent of the styles from Les Baxter and his adaptation of the genre, Exotica.

While orchestral, his 1951 release Ritual Of The Savage is more flair to the dance flavor and a flash in the pan of creating tribal drum melodies that blend seamlessly with the wonder and intrigue of flutes and strings. His arrangement and direction on Ritual Of The Savage may divulge somewhere into the culturally diverse side of Hollywood in the ’50s, but immediately images of jazz clubs and the emotion of big-time stage shows where bulbs of white and red etch against Los Angeles’ sunken skies.

Baxter opens with “Busy Port” which is synonymous with a scrolling film score that pulls back the main credits and begins pointing the audience into this shuttle boat of almost militant style. As the ship leaves the port, Baxter is elusive in his progression, but the runs on the flute and the flutters of strings give more comfort to the instrumentation than any hesitation or fear. Played mostly in these major chords where the bright and illustrative performances are almost as if they were paintings in a children’s book where the jungle renditions of sound give into mental images that burn with the bright, midday sun.

The following piece, “Jungle River Boat” sounds almost in the bay of Asian instrumentation with these plucked high-pitched strings but slowly these congo drums and rhythms are worked into the process. Eventually, the Pacific influence falls to the wayside, and Baxter is left with the motion to move further and further into the brush, losing the listener and separating them through isolation tactics.

These tactics come in the form of fear with “Barquita” where the increase of intensity is gradual and does not rocket quite like the other tracks on Ritual Of The Savage. Instead, “Barquita” is almost calming in the way the earth is settled before a raging storm follows. With underlying but still quick rhythms on the percussion, the audience really has to turn their ear in to hear some of the playing here.

The orchestra drops the subtly act, and follows “Kinkajou” into the sun’s new dawn with once again, these cheerful placements of woodwind instruments and warm but never engulfing horns. Baxter is a maestro to the B-movie but also manipulates Ritual Of The Savage as the nearly entirely instrumental record of one’s daydreams. Describing on the record’s liner notes, “Do the mysteries of native rituals intrigue you…does the haunting beat of savage drums fascinate you? Are you captivated by the forbidden ceremonies of primitive peoples in far-off Africa or deep in the interior of the Belgian Congo?”

While the instrumentation never really takes the audience to these foreign lands as much as the final track, “The Ritual” which is nothing but percussion for the first minute and gives the idea where the movie comes to a climax and either danger or escape lies with the listener. These drums on “The Ritual” are some of the most exciting pieces of performance coming from Baxter and his orchestra on Ritual Of The Savage, leaving more of an intimidation factor in the final moments.

Baxter thrills and gives even now 70 years later a piece of gentle, but still fierce introductory backing sounds. Over the 12 tracks and 32 minutes, Ritual Of The Savage won’t create the same emotional output that it did on its initial release, but the Exotica prime minister still is accomplished by his arrangements and rhythms that are still used today.

Listen To Ritual Of The Savage Here!!! – Spotify/Amazon/iTunes

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