Andre Kostelanetz
Lure Of The Tropics






There are two distinctive questions you can apply and ask in regard to every Exotica release while manoeuvering through the thick jungle of releases: is a certain record released before or after Martin Denny’s Exotica of 1957, and is it an intimate record of a quartet or an orchestral manifesto of the pompous kind? It is true that the Exotica movement was specifically targeted after Denny’s debut, but there were lots of paradisal records before this initial point.


Enter Andre Kostelanetz (1901–1980), a popular Russian conductor and crown prince of the Easy Listening movement. Lure Of The Tropics was already released in 1954 and is – in my humblest opinion – one of the very best pre-Exotica releases you can possibly come up with! The majority of its nine tracks is surprisingly long in regard to the typical Exotica-related track length ratio where most songs don’t even exceed the three-minute mark. However, it offers several three to four minute long songs, the only exception being Jamaican Rhumba with only 1 minute and 42 seconds. While all of these tracks are interpretations of well-known or soon-to-be classics, the selection, arrangement and sound quality are top notch, enormously vivid and tremendously soothing and catchy. This is Easy Listening music that no one should be ashamed of liking. One highlight follows after the other.


Originally released by Columbia Records, it is thankfully available as a digital download version that was splendidly remastered by the recently revived British Hallmark Records, so don’t feel nervous about the remastering process – it worked out well and retains the loudness-related particularities of the original vinyl version.


Kostelanetz chooses The Moon Of Manakoora as the gateway to the Tropics. Whenever I listen to this song, I have the 1943 performance of Dorothy Lamour in my mind’s eye. Kostelanetz’s version begins with beautifully cascading harps, wind chimes and marimbas and soon presents Hawaiian guitars, sprinkles of a ukulele and romantic strings. The constant interplay between quiet passages and floating strings makes this version so great, because skepticism is appropriate, for such intimate songs seldom maintain their modest beauty in large orchestra settings. Due to the large pool of instruments and the quieter passages, the verve of the strings doesn’t contradict the mood of the song, but enhances it marvelously.


After the deeply rumbling sustain of the closing Chinese gong, I’m drooling all over, for Lotus Land is next, and it is probably my most beloved Exotica standard and a great benchmark for the imagination of all artists alike. Described on the back of the LP as "a garden between the dawn and sunrise, somewhere east of the moon and west of the sun" with "many-colored fountains" that "play across the scented breeze and spray rises in a rainbow mist", Lotus Land needs to rope in all of these beautiful imageries of tranquility and inward peace. This is what I expect from each and every version. In contrast to my favorite Lotus Land version, included on Warren Barker’s A Musical Touch Of Far Away Places, and my second favorite piano-, vibraphone- and bird-driven rendition by Gene Rains off his album with the same name, Kostelanetz’s string-laden version precedes all these performances, but still captures the placidity on top of this.


A paradisiac alto flute is in the limelight while the string ensemble remains in the background, creating a blurry ambience that has nothing to do with Easy Listening anymore, but elevates the song to higher spheres. When the strings swell in volume and are complimented by cascading flute notes and a silky harp, the vibrance of a beautiful view is perfectly captured. After this relatively short outburst, Kostelanetz’s interpretation of Lotus Land returns into arcane but relaxing territories. This is the best song of the album, and while it is only the third-best Lotus Land version on my list, this shouldn’t put anyone off. It’s super-dreamy, perfectly balanced and transforms the Far Eastern beauty into mellifluous audio waves.


Kashmiri Song is a good third track and is deliberately handed in behind Lotus Land, for the first three notes of Amy Woodforde-Finden’s classic song sound suspiciously like the main melody of Lotus Land. The mood is quite a bit darker with Oriental flute-string concoctions and cavernous bass fiddles, but it is the performance of the female opera singer that changes the mood for the better, as the golden sun rays are set to the music via various mallet instruments and the most technicolored string sections Kostelanetz could conduct. Another high point is the short solo of a sitar-like string instrument. I’m not sure whether it’s a real sitar, but the sound quality comes quite close.


Jamaican Rhumba is the aforementioned short interlude that completely crashes the endemic mood and wouldn’t have been out of place in Norrie Paramor’s Jet Flight of 1959. Hectic orchestra drums and feisty staccato string and flute melodies make this an ebullient ditty that is surely quite catchy on its own, but not in the solemn settings provided by Lure Of The Tropics, I’m afraid. The one and only drop of bitterness on this release which paradoxically is the most joyful and upbeat tune.


While Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña is presented in a melodramatic gourd-focused version here with additional piano sprinkles and glaring-red evening strings with several related ensemble outbursts, Ted Grouya’s Jazz standard Flamingo not only survives the orchestrated transformation, but prospers due to the cheeky-dulcet flute intersections that flow into the main melody that is recreated on strings. Even though there are no vibraphones or maracas on this version, the feeble flimsy bird actually seems more like a phoenix in Kostelanetz's take. It is almost unbelievable how different the alacritous Exotica versions of, say, Martin Denny or Ted Auletta are in contrast to the majestic lushness that is presented here. A very good version and a great counterpoint to the exotic vividness.


The last third of the album is tremendously lush as Kostelanetz relies heavily on the string side. Poinciana surprises the listener threefoldly, first with extremely sweet and lavish string portions, then with an piano-flute combination that serves as a fragile trail to the fulminant string smashes which, lastly, add a pinch of danger. However, the last minute or so is absolutely salient in its gleaming aural painting of the main melody that fades out slowly while floating harps and mollifying flutes remind of the Easy Listening approach that is supposedly attached to the conductor’s name; at least in regard to this album, I beg to differ.


Up next is a version of The Breeze And I, or rather Andalucía, as it is fittingly called. Again, this version is right up my alley with its clichéd Spanish pompousness, exhilarative backing flutes and the chorus that is gorgeously realized with effervescent strings and complemental mallet instruments which play rising sequences of notes. The final inclusion is Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Song Of India, which, on an interesting sidenote, is presented in the right way, as this song belongs to the opera Sadko of 1896 and was only later absorbed and made into a Jazz standard by Tommy Dorsey, whose interpretation again served as the fundament for the flood of Exotica versions in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Kostelanetz’s version harks back to the original with its phantasmagoric presentation that is not the slightest bit exotic. The alto flute melody is played in dolce, and the incisively loud violin adjacent to the whole string ensemble captures the treacly glutinous atmosphere of the original flawlessly. I would have wished for a more exotic song to be the closer of the album. I prefer the versions of Irv Cottler and The Markko Polo Adventurers, for instance, anytime.


Lure Of The Tropics is a fantastic album that delivers a wise choice of classics that were picked time and again by various Jazz ensembles and Exotica quartets later on. However, to fully enjoy this album, you should know about its limits and peculiarities. For one, this is a pre-Exotica album. Andre Kostelanetz wanted to depict the tropics with the help of instruments that are typically found in orchestras. Even after the launch of the Exotica hype, he stayed true to his roots as a conductor and didn’t include overly alienating instruments from far away places. Therefore, you need to tolerate the violin string side of his music. Secondly, as it is usual with albums that are loaded with interpretations of classic compositions, you enjoy them most when your mind can connect them with or link them to interpretations by other artists. To me, this is really half the fun of listening to albums like Lure Of The Tropics that admittedly add no new song to the table, but interpret each offering differently.


Only if you got to know a few versions already, you can fully embrace – or execrate – certain choices and strategies by the conductor. But whatever, even if you didn’t know about any of the nine tunes Kostelanetz chose for his record, why not take Lure Of The Tropics as the point of departure into the realms of Exotica? This is an utterly great album that caters to my needs, and right to the point. But the fun doesn’t stop here. Andre Kostelanetz built upon the success of this album by delivering the follow-up Lure Of Paradise in 1959, supposedly due to the Exotica movement being on its peak then.


A peculiarity of this follow-up is a return to a lot of the material featured above, but with a different orchestration, varying track lengths and new instrumentation. In a way, both albums are thus worth your money or time even if you already own one of them. I’ve already mentioned the reasons: it’s exciting for me to analyze different interpretations by different artists, but it’s all the more astonishing to listen to another version by the same artist years later (or earlier) than the one you know by heart. Anyway, this is a bit of a digression, so I’d sum it up as follows: get yourself the colorful, pompously phantasmagoric Lure Of The Tropics and couple it with Lure Of Paradise, which I’m going to review at a later point as well. Both are highly recommended. And if you really want to add vivid clichés to your Kostelanetz collection, Lure Of France is très bien aussi.


Exotica Review 062: Andre Kostelanetz – Lure Of The Tropics (1954). Originally published on Apr. 28, 2012 at