John Scott Trotter
Escape To The
Magic Mediterranean





Right from the first introductory liner notes of John Scott Trotter's Escape To The Magic Mediterranean, mellifluous memories – and hilarity, but more about this later – ensue: "The Mediterranean is magic, and if you are en route or have been a recent visitor, you should know that there's more than its music that will cling to you." And indeed, in this pre-Exotica album, the intimidatingly heavy but ever-smiling John Scott Trotter (1908–1975) could draw on practically unlimited resources, for the Mediterranean Sea is enclosed by 40+ countries, thus offering the possibility to rightfully and realistically merge Oriental settings with French accordions as it happened numerous times after Trotter's release, for example, much to my chagrin, in Ron Goodwin's Music For An Arabian Night (released in 1959) as well as in Axel Stordahl's conceptual copycat release Lure Of The Blue Mediterranean (1959), Norrie Paramor's Jet Flight (1959) and Irv Cottler's Around The World In Percussion (1961) whose blends are much more successful than Goodwin's, at least to my ears.


Trotter enters the competition with 12 renditions of such classics as Caravan, La Vie En Rose and Misirlou, and you know what? This album is actually great! Not each and every song is a hit in my book, but the symbiosis of lush, Les Baxter-like Hollywood strings with clichéd French and Italian instruments works quite well here. Sure enough, there are overly romantic intersections, but the mood is joyful and upbeat – Easy Listening par excellence. In addition, the back of the LP features 4 recipes of Mediterranean cuisine, hand-picked and consumed regularly by Trotter himself, thus fulfilling yet another cliché in unison with the admittedly gorgeous front artwork. All these things combined allow a successful and enjoyable journey through various countries that were altogether excitingly exotic for the intended audience of the United States. Since Trotter's album is a so-called travelog album, let's see how it compares to the aforementioned entries of Norrie Paramor and Irv Cottler.

Caravan opens the album, and I don't know how many times I have yet to write about this Oriental piece, but I know that I love coming back to it, and this is also the case in terms of Trotter's version which starts with the well-known melody being played on strings, additional wind chimes, placid bongos, euphonious harps, underlining accordion bits and a trembling shawm. A great start of the album and a prolific version that is surprisingly consistent despite the curious inclusion of the accordion. A particular highlight consists of the vividly whirling strings in the latter half, bringing rose-tinted felicity to the setting. The next stop takes place in Sicily: Taormina merges a typical Italian accordion melody with a staccato gourd, and the mood shifts from melancholia in the first minute to brightness with the help of backing strings. If you like Irv Cottler's take on Sorento And Santa Lucia, you will definitely be up for Taormina as well.


Up next is a version of Jule Styne's and Sammy Cahn's Three Coins In A Fountain that was prominently featured as the main melody of the 1954 film with the same name. It is a true highlight on Trotter's album: tremendously dulcet flute melodies are coupled with majestically glistening xylophone and vibraphone sprinkles and underlining string sections which are later complemented by piano tercets and alto flutes. This is a very dreamy song and not the least bit schmaltzy, although it is romantic. Since this song isn't featured on Exotica albums everyday, it is a welcome addition. I'm almost sobbing. However, my tears are dried by sandstorms: Tunisian Interlude features a prominent melody, and the galloping bongo percussion as well as the cheeky accordions provide a jazzy atmosphere. This song alone inherits a stronger Arabian setting than all of Ron Goodwin's 12 tracks on Music For An Arabian Night. Magnificent and very catchy!


The bittersweet Mam'selle by Edmund Goulding transports the listener to France, and this string-heavy song with an accordion-driven main melody is quite melodramatic, and yet fragile due to its moony mallet instrument accompaniments. I'm not particularly keen on this song, but it isn't nerve-racking either. It surely has its romantic audience. Up next is a killer rendition of Misirlou which is inspired by Greek folk songs and dances. An Oriental flute melody marks the beginning, and the double bass backings are refreshingly dark and intimidating. A shawm is playing the main melody, while the respective counterparts are realized by tempestuous strings, an accordion and a piano. I cannot get enough of the various Misirlou incarnations out there, and Trotter's version is a clear winner.

All songs off side A were successful interpretations, and side B is no different, I think. Eartha Kitt's 1953 song Uska Dara teleports the listener to Turkey, and it is a densely meandering piece with a stern Oriental mood and less playfulness. A terrific addition are the pristine, glass-like percussive bits in the second half that successfully distract the listener's attention from the main melody. Back to Italy we go with Arrivederci Roma, and there is nothing much to write about it. The accordion is interchanged with a gourd once again, and lush strings are thrown in as well. A harmonious, colorful interpretation for sure.


La Vie En Rose offers yet another accordion-string cocktail, but the strings are tremendously lush and dominant. Another surprise are the acoustic guitar pluckings that are accompanied by quiet accordions and mellow strings. Amor completes the romantic triumvirate with a quicker rhythm and especially lush strings. The short tango intersection is especially effective and probably the most surprising inclusion on the whole album. While La Mer brings back various flutes to the ensemble and spices the song with beautifully sparkling vibraphone droplets, the closing piece Escape To Monaco increases the tempo and presents an almost piercingly high-pitched accordion.

Glinting xylophones, cascading harps, Parisian accordions, Oriental flutes and phantasmagoric string sections – Escape To The Magic Mediterranean is a great travel album that rightfully belongs to and precedes the Exotica genre. There is not a single lackluster song anywhere near the album, and as an Easy Listening album, I rate it quite highly. Fittingly to his own physique, Trotter plays it big, offering a stream of flowing lushness and easiness. While we are in clear cut Easy Listening territories, the schmaltz factor is surprisingly low in contrast to other bands, The Three Suns or the 101 Strings come to mind, for instance. I wouldn't call this an essential pre-Exotica release, but I have to admit that the obvious idea of an aural journey through the Mediterranean is presented flawlessly.


The positive vibe is totally perceptible, and the offered versions are both exotic and streamlined due to the addition of a Western style. Still, nothing beats Norrie Paramor's Jet Flight and its 12 original, globe-encompassing compositions that feature a similar range of slow ballads, upbeat boleros and dreamy vistas, but feature Far Eastern settings in addition to the Mediterranean area. Trotter, however, cannot be blamed for the omission of Far Eastern melodies; the reasons are at hand and obvious. While the inclusion of recipes for Mediterranean meals is a curious alteration of the beloved motif of cocktail mixing instructions, it is a somewhat funny and fitting frame to the music. Escape To The Magic Mediterranean is available on iTunes and other digital download stores or streaming services, and if you aren't fond of romantic songs, get yourself Misirlou, Tunisian Interlude and Caravan, all of which coincidentally depict Oriental settings. If you don't mind a lush string ensemble and want to add a rarely played song to your collection, consider Three Coins In A Fountain as well. I can recommend this album to fans of Les Baxter and people who prefer technicolored strings in their Exotica music. You won't be disappointed with this one.


Exotica Review 054: J. S. Trotter – Escape To The Magic Mediterranean (1956). Originally published on Apr. 7, 2012 at