Big Kahuna And The Copa Cat Pack

Shake Those Hula Hips!






The cover artwork, the album title and front man Matt Catingub, better known for his alias Big Kahuna, can only hint at one particular Exotica style: swinging Big Band numbers and fresh takes on old classics. Big is also the credo when it comes to the variety and the amount of songs on the album – no less than 14 songs are featured on Big Kahuna's second album, a welcome change of the 12-songs-per-album formula that is the remaining heirloom of the vinyl age. And finally, another form of bigness refers to the selection of glistening guest vocalists such as Rosemary Clooney and Debby Boone whose powerful voices are more than necessary in such brassy affairs. That certain Exotica feeling might be hidden or hard to detect on many a tunes of this album sometimes, as frantic Big Band numbers usually cannot transport fragile or tropical feelings in the same way Jazz quartets are able to, let alone on renditions that aren't of faux-exotic origin. However, since Shake Those Hula Hips! adds vintage TV show themes and lounge standards to its roster, every nostalgical tear the listener might shed will surely be washed away … with a tremendous blast!


The album starts hugely with an exquisitely swinging version of the Hawaii Five-0 theme full of elated brass players and energetic drum sections. The horns are shimmering due to the red-hot heat this version delivers. To my mind, this is the best way to start a swing album. However, there's no time for cooling down, as a no less brassy rendition of Fever is next. Played a thousand times by a lot of Jazz bands, this song sure is familiar to every rapscallion, but Big Band versions of this dimension are less common, and such being the case, this version simply rocks the ballroom. Ain't No Big Thing with its cheeky lyrics and the unblushing backing of the Copa Cat Pack stays true to the endemic formula, while Avalon is the most jazzy song where everything is reduced and played more gently; even the brass ensemble adds a more easygoing vibe to the old classic, and the pianist tags along with the band, his inclusion being a first on this album and rare enough to deserve a mention, as it breaks the – admittedly well presented – swinging mood for a few minutes. 


Princess Poo-Poo-Ly Has Plenty Papaya adds an extra portion of happiness to everyone involved in this vintage tune when Big Kahuna and his Copa Cat Pack pay court to the jovial Rosemary Clooney who lends Princess Poo-Poo-Ly her voluminous voice. It is on And The Angels Sing, though, where Clooney really shines and is able to enchant the audience. The reduced brass ensemble and quieter tones definitely help, and it is the interchange of Clooney's soothing words with broad brass sections that make this rendition so great. Heck, the band isn't even above playing an easy-going version of I Dream Of Jeannie, which, luckily, is getting spiced with improvised sections that let you forget Jeannie's theme for a moment. The theme's iconic omnipresence in Western culture isn't overcome yet, and while it is one of the more catchy TV melodies, I am still wary of a version that can truly enthrall me and lets me throw my stupid prejudices over board. Until then, I'm sorry to say that Jeannie songs do nothing for me, I'm afraid.


Both Waikiki and In The Mood are among the slower piece on the album, with Catingub's voice suddenly sounding almost silky before changing back to the familiar cheekiness. Waikiki features a polyphonous Copa Cat Pack that harmonizes well with Catingub's voice and the overall dreamy atmosphere. On In The Mood, tremoling trumpets and a female backing choir add further stylistic changes to the swinging formula. The album ends with a rendition of the licensed premises classic Tequila, and while there must be people out there who detest the song with a passion, I am quite fond of it. The Latin-flavored original by The Champs was already clichéd when it was released back in 1958, and now the ludicrousness grows beyond large, but I have to admit that I hadn't even heard a Big Band version of this song before I got to know Big Kahuna's great attempt. The version stays true to the original, but replaces every dull moment of the original with Catingub's recipe for success: brass warriors who almost detonate their instruments – the dynamic is huge, and thus the album ends in the same efficient way as it began.


Shake Those Hula Hips! is an imperative sentence you should not turn down. In a way, Catingub tricks the Exotica afficionado into taking a look at this album, for its bright green Tiki artwork and a a lot of Exotica classics will surely please everyone interested in these renditions. But it's not that easy, for Big Band music belongs without a doubt to the large catalogue of profound Exotica styles, but is at the same time a style that overly excites and is less capable to capture languorous moods and an easy lifestyle. This is by no means neither Big Kahuna's And The Copa Cat Pack's fault, nor should they care about any of it. This is an album that fires on all cylinders 90% of the time and only tries a more laidback and jazzy approach on setups of Avalon or Waikiki. Once you know what you get, you better enjoy it. I sure do!


Exotica Review 018: Big Kahuna And The Copa Cat Pack – Shake Those Hula Hips! (2001). Originally published on Dec. 31, 2011 at