Irv Cottler
Around The World

In Percussion




The idea of traveling the globe is as old as the Copernican system, but it was due to the formal nomination of Hawaii as the 50th U.S. state in 1959 and the general rise of tourism and wealth what made so-called travel records highly sought-after pieces. As it is usual with the genre of Exotica, listeners couldn‘t expect genuine percussion and original styles of the aurally visited countries or islands, but had to view the faux-ritualistic performances and offerings through rose-tinted glasses.


Norrie Paramor‘s Jet Flight is one of these albums, Irv Cottler‘s (1918–1989) Around The World In Percussion another. However, Cottler‘s approach was different, for he wasn‘t a conductor or pianist but a big-band drummer. While you can expect Exotica by the number on this LP, you can also bet that Cottler wanted to prove what he is capable of, hence the focus on drum sections and percussive ingredients. In fact, the percussive instruments used on this album are particularly exotic and comprehensive, ranging from bamboo rods to Tahitian log drums over temple blocks. Since the overarching theme of the album is traveling to exotic and far-away places and getting a glimpse of a location‘s habitual compositions, I can accept the inclusion of 12 featured renditions of well-known songs without a single original song; luckily, this is another album that gets stronger on side two, I suppose. 


Miserlou starts the album with a Middle Eastern flavor. Though it is based on a Bossa Nova groove, the main melody is played on a shawm-like instrument and the backing melody is realized with minatory brass sections that are a typical element of the following songs as well. As it is usual in all exotic Miserlou/Misirlou versions out there, the main melody is additionally played by a deep piano in the song‘s second inning. Staccato marimba bits add a tropical breeze while the percussion remains bright and clanging. Definitely not the worst rendition of Miserlou, all the more so due to the Oriental focus of a song that is otherwise influenced by Greek dances.


On A Little Street In Singapore features the same slightly menacing brass sections but is otherwise keen on strings and the hollow sounds of the bamboo rods and temple blocks that are prominently presented in a long percussive intermission. The Moon Of Manakoora introduces a soothing mood for the first time with piano sprinkles, vibraphones, chimes and all the other instruments that represent the atmosphere of a beach in moonshine. A welcome element, however, is the probably slightly overdone percussion that hails from the background and is almost louder than the instruments at the front; yet again, the percussive elements are allowed to shine in a short intersection that add a tribal, faux-ritualistic element to this classic.


Sorrento And Santa Lucia offers a surprising change of formula with gorgeous accordions, gentle tambourins and a gourd for the main melody. Even though the version is surprisingly stripped-down, this might well be its advantage, as it sounds true to form and not overly exotic with a thousand additonal instruments. Ritual Fire Dance spices the album with jaunty rhythms, trumpets that are played like oriental shawms, high marimbas and a firestorm of hectically played bongos, chimes and timpani. I‘m not overly keen on Ritual Fire Dance in general, its melody does nothing for me, and while the percussive sections are indeed the big plus on Cottler‘s version, this is, in my book, the weekest part of the album.


Caravan starts side two of the album and is another version of hundreds out there. Is there an interesting twist on this rendition? There is, although it‘s nothing that overhauls the typical flavor, but is still a welcome imprint: the melody is always played polyphonously with the coupling of two different instruments that add a scintilla of cacophony to the well-known formula. I especially adore the Hammond organ and the jazzy trumpet in the Oriental setting as well as a mad bongo section. As such, this version succeeds and is one of the strongest tracks.


Under Paris Skies is another phenomenally clichéd version de la chanson formidable with – yep, you guessed it – euphonious accordions and the slightly eerie addition of the gourd. This song is not exotic at all, but its strong French charme somehow works for me, but this is probably the farthest departure from Polynesian or Oriental flavors on the album, so you have been warned. Arab Dance is a faithful reproduction of the well-known section in Tchaikovsky‘s Nutcracker. A galloping beat and another cameo appearance of the brass players smoothes the Oriental setting, while bongos and chimes add a brightly-lit supplementation. España Cani finally finds a prominent place for the castanets, and while the accordion plays along, cheery marimbas and the obligatory trumpet fanfare can be heard as the remaining additions of this fast-paced classic.


Baubles Bangles & Beads is the most exotic and quiet song on the album, with gentle bongos, a fragile flute melody, plinky chimes, reverberated xylophones and gingerly brass accompaniments. A very dreamy rendition where the impact of the drums is reduced in favor of an harmonious interplay. Song Of India closes the album with a bolero groove, military march-like percussion and a flute melody. And as it is typical for a good bolero, the end of it is majestic with all instruments playing together and the drums being beaten louder than before. The Indian feeling is imperceptible, which is a good thing, since there are no clichés attached to this version. 


Irv Cottler was wise to add a focus on percussion to all these classics while at the same time being cautious of not exaggerating the inclusion of crashing drums. Everything is tightly produced, and it only happens on the fragile The Moon Of Manakoora that the bongos are a bit too dominant, but this depends on your personal aptitude. A welcome addition are the Parisian and Spanish songs with their accordions. 15 years after World War II, Europe was an admired destination to U.S. citizens, and Cottler takes this into account by shuttling permanently between Oriental, European and Polynesian styles – only the Far East is missing apart from the inclusion of On A Little Street In Singapore which doesn‘t even have that Asian sound in this rendition, but you can‘t have everything.


If I drive the short comparison with Norrie Paramor‘s Jet Flight further, I would say that Paramor‘s album is definitely more appealing and successful as a whole, for it features 12 original tracks. Still, the comparison is unfair, because Paramor has a whole orchestra he is conducting, while Cottler‘s album was played by a Jazz band. And I realized another interesting distinction, though this one is personal: while I‘m rolling my eyes when Paramor realizes some of his playful melodies with an accordion, Cottler curiously does it exactly right. If you don‘t mind yet another LP that consists solely of renditions, Around The World In Percussion is probably worth it, if you can find it, as it is only available on vinyl at time of writing.


Further reading:

The SpaceAgePop entry for Irv Cottler features a comprehensive overview in regard to Cottler's work with several artists and for quite a few TV shows.


Exotica Review 044: Irv Cottler – Around The World In Percussion (1961). Originally published on Mar. 10, 2012 at