Along with Martin Denny's piano, Arthur Lyman's vibraphone was a founding instrument of the exotica genre. Exotica served as the soundtrack to tiki culture brought home by South Seas GIs, combining island melodies with world percussion, exotic bird calls, hot Latin rhythms, and a dash of jazz cool. Denny's group debuted in 1956 with Lyman on vibes, combining the former's orchestral education and two-handed chords with the latter's melodic four-mallet technique. Their sound conjured an ersatz jungle in any hi-fi nut's living room.
Lyman split from Denny after their 1957 LP debut, founded his own quartet, and recorded dozens more exotica-influenced albums. Recorded live (without audience) in the reverberant Kaiser aluminum dome on Waikiki, Lyman's albums offered up full-spectrum spectaculars, carefully recorded with a dazzling array of microphones, tape machines, and mastering lathes lovingly detailed in the liner notes. Lyman searched for new ways to apply the instrumental principles of exotica to material drawn from traditional Hawaiian melodies, pop songs, soundtrack and Broadway hits, classical themes, and international selections. With his vibraphone front and center, Lyman's arrangements swung more than Denny's and leaned more heavily to jazz.
These nine CDs reproduce eighteen of Lyman's original albums, two per disc with full-panel cover art, opening with 1958's Bwana A and closing with 1968's Today's Greatest Hits. All but the last pair (some of whose pop tunes cross into kitsch) are remarkably consistent in quality. Catalog highlights include the slack key, ukulele, and percussive creativity of Bahai, the inventive arrangements of Cotton Fields and Blowin' in the Wind (both of which travel far from '60s folk revivalism), and the laid-back seduction of Aphrodisia. Lyman neophytes might first sample a greatest hits CD, but additional rounds should be sipped from among these premium spirits. (Collectors' Choice)
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