Arthur Lyman






Arthur Lyman's Bahia is one of the true classic milestone albums coming right out of the middle of the Exotica era in 1959, just shortly before the rise of Lyman's immense success in the 60's which led to months of touring and the proverbial life on the road. On Bahia, 12 songs are herded together, all of them contemporary Exotica classics. What makes this album so interesting is the fact that quite a few of the songs we consider classics today weren't even 5 years old back in those days and thus could hardly be considered as classics back then. And yet, Lyman chose wisely and presents 12 exquisite gems on Bahia, 4 of them coming from another Exotica legend, Les Baxter, and all of the 12 tracks feature Lyman's signature instrument, the vibraphone, played with 4 mallets in order to create richly textured layers of vibrating Exotica soundscapes. I am often skeptical about band releases that solely concentrate on cover versions, but here the case is different, as Lyman's style of play for one adds a distinctive, never heard before flavor to each song, and secondly, the material consists of soon-to-be classics, as stated above.


Bahia starts with the title song of the same name, and goes right to another one of Lyman's famous expertises, namely realistic, towering bird calls, which add a genuine ambience to the record and established as well as enhanced the tradition of similar animal noises on releases by different artists. Martin Denny did it first, right, but even he relied on Lyman's mimicries. Anyway, Bahia was already a classic back then, written by Brazilian composer Ary Barroso in 1938, with only the piano left in Lyman's rendition, which otherwise relies heavily on the vibraphone and exotic percussion. A percussive shift occurs later on, introducing a wild samba rhythm to an otherwise unchanged song tempo-wise. Lyman's version just sounds as fresh today as it sounded revolutionary at the turn of its decade.


Legend Of The Rain features either an innovative field recording of a thunderstorm or a recording of a movie scene, again adding tremendously to the distinct flavor of Lyman's album. After a quiet prelude by an acoustic guitar and a flute, Lyman's vibraphones burst into the scenery, played on different volume levels and leaving room for the Hawaiian guitar and piano tercets. Bamboo begins with another example of Lyman's voice imitations of animals next to gently played marimbas. Right in the middle, Bamboo breaks loose with deep, powerful pianos and excited animals, only to decrease in volume shortly after the outbreak. Caribbean Nights is another piano/vibraphone result with two tempo shifts in the middle, but I prefer the similarly themed Tropical with a backing xylophone and beautiful vibraphone tercets. The melodious interlude in the middle, played by marimbas, is especially effective, as this mallet instrument hasn't been used by Lyman too many times before on Bahia.


Busy Port, a Baxter original, starts in the most playful way with a short but beautiful introduction loop and goes through every emotion rhythm-wise, from calm and reduced to loud and hectical interplays. Beyond The Reef is the most quiet song on this album and a connecting link to Lyman's similarly conducted song Whispering Reef Lullaby off his album Hawaiian Sunset (1959), with the distinction of a marked fiddle. While the vibraphones work well in energetic songs and hence on the greatest part of Bahia, they really shine on quiet pieces, evoking a tranquil and lush atmosphere not to be found otherwise. Naturally, such compositions underuse Lyman's true abilities, and yet are nothing short of beautiful, to my mind.


Maybe there are people out there who avoid listening to a whole album by Arthur Lyman due to his reliance on vibraphones which sound very powerful and pervading, leaving not much room to play for additional instruments. Bahia in particular features quick and hot-tempered renditions of already passionate Exotica classics, thus multiplying the effects of the respective original due to the crystal clear appearance of various mallet instruments, with the vibraphone on the forefront. This is probably Arthur Lyman's most dynamic LP ever. Cozy songs that make you drowsy on purpose are not to be found until the very end, thus making this sort of a party album rather than a soothing imaginary trip. It is nonetheless – or all the more – one of Lyman's strongest releases that captures the mood of a night out on a jungle-like island flawlessly. A classic not to be missed, if just for the beautiful bird noises, rainfalls and thunderstorms, which all together form flashes of excitement.


Exotica Review 016: Arthur Lyman – Bahia (1959). Originally published on Dec. 24, 2011 at