Eden Ahbez
Eden's Island





One of the most iconic Exotica releases ever and most probably on every avid Exotica listener's best-of list, this is a truly remarkable gem that, after only selling poorly in the early 60's, resurged when Exotica music became collectible and en vogue again. Hence, the fan base of Eden Ahbez grew and the album, while probably filed away under obscurities, is here to stay for good. Much has been written about Ahbez's life, and despite his hippie roots or his habit of writing his name in small letters only, the album itself is magnificently recorded and features a diversified pastiche of several genres that are entangled by Ahbez with an exotic mood. Even though Ahbez could be considered an oddball type, this is not a halfhearted experimental endeavor of an album but in fact shows Ahbez's skilled craftsmanship in regards to musical compositions and original song ideas.


Eden's Island, the album's quick starter being short of 2 minutes, starts with an exotic flute, followed by a choir reminiscent of the bird of passage youth movement that Ahbez grew fond of in the 40's. An exquisitely played marimba and an encore of the flute build up the setting of a tropical, carefree island as the genius loci. Say what you will, but it is true: they don't make songs like these anymore. While the choir might be reminiscent of a cult or nature movement nowadays, I tend to believe Ahbez strove for the latter definition. On a side note, be sure to check out Arthur Lyman's version of the song which stays true to Ahbez's original but generates the fun-loving feeling with vibraphones instead. 


Eden‘s Cove is definitely the hippie track on the album, relying on a tamburin, a mixed polyphonic choir and is overall the most dynamic track, having a ritual feel to it. Boys and girls – used as figurative devices for salad days – celebrate Eden‘s Cove on Eden‘s Island. If you'd like a deeper analysis of Eden's Cove, check out my in-depth review of it, as I've knighted it the Exotica Song of the Month for September 2012. Need an extract of the lyrics? "Eden's Island has a sandy cove, where boys and girls fall in love." There you go, it‘s just a beautifully odd track even for longtime Exotica listeners.


Track 5, Tradewind, again features two flutes, a marimba and calm, soothingly exotic percussion, while Track 8, Market Place, uses the same flutes for a more oriental approach. Once the flutes are silent in this track, the remaining aforementioned ingredients induce an atemporal, placeless feeling that cannot be pinpointed to anything else but a clichéd exotic place in the head of the listener. Track 10, The Old Boat, is an example of program music because the track title is readopted right from the beginning of the track when creaking, swaying wood can be heard throughout, resembling the very boat of the title. This is one of the rare tracks where an old fashioned piano is integrated in the mix, the other one being the penultimate track, Island Girl, a stunning ditty with a prominent rattle often heard in Salsa songs. The two notes of the piano work as a rhythmic pattern while things get jazzy with the most complex piano melody of the release.


In between the various tracks, Ahbez is reciting poetic utopian thoughts about nature and society, accompanied by a piano in The Wanderer or flutes and congas in La Mar. These songs might well be a turnoff to quite a lot of listeners, because they might be well produced and relaxing on the one hand, but surely not everyone wants to be taught about Ahbez's views. I also tend to the latter category of listeners, but I also respect Ahbez's approach of telling utopian thoughts about his own island, for this album could indeed have been solely produced for transporting these messages; these lectures fit nonetheless as they are programmatic to the album title.


Whatever your opinion is about these spoken word tracks with added instruments, there are more than enough instrumentals and unique songs that make up for these lectures. I think of this album as a very good release because it was written and produced at the beginning of the sunset decade of Exotica when people slowly went their heads to the more spacey, ethereal kind of Exotica or, as was also often the case, ignored the temporary fashion once and for all. Thankfully, this record is widely available on CD and in digital download stores and therefore invites us to a worthwile trip to Eden's Island as long as the listener fancies a blending of guitar-less hippie music with Jazz and Exotica elements and original compositions.


Further reading:

As usual, there's a great synopsis of Eden Ahbez's life and music-related accomplishments at SpaceAgePop.com.


Exotica Review 001: Eden Ahbez – Eden's Island (1960). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at AmbientExotica.com.