Gene Rains
Far Across The Sea






Even if you consider his short discography of three entries plus one Best Of album where Gene Rains has been the bandleader, Far Across The Sea remains more under the radar than any of his other offerings. Released in 1961 about one year after the fan favorite Lotus Land, Rains stays true to his formula and delivers a tropical Exotica record that is as near to the eclectic Jazz scene as it is far away from euphonious Easy Listening shores.


The words I quipped about Lotus Land remain true in regard to Far Across The Sea: this album is best enjoyed by a skilled Exotica lover with a little bit of background knowledge about the 12 classics that are presented by the Gene Rains Group, for their layers are varied and often times rather complex, but turn out to be successful, colorful renditions once you are able to link them to the interpretations of other artists. On top of that, the album is special for the substitution of pianist Paul Conrad who left the group in order to launch a short-lived, ephemeral solo career that culminated in another sought-after Exotica album, Exotic Paradise from 1963. Bryon L. Peterson takes over Conrad’s part while Archie Grant Jr. keeps on slapping the bass, Allen Watanabe is beating the drums and of course Gene Rains is delivering a coruscating performance on the vibraphone.


Despite a certain tendency in complexity, four stylistic shifts are apparent in contrast to Lotus Land: firstly, the group comes up with an even dreamier style. The vibes are more clearly in the spotlight than before which leads immediately to the second change, namely the presentation of slower, more laid back pieces. However, don’t misinterpret the dreaminess as a streamlined whitewashed flavor of irrelevance! The sustain of the vibes coupled with their interaction with the placid drums and the gentle bass is convoluted enough to impress the listener with lushness and resplendence. Thirdly, 25% of the album consist of theme songs, some of them very new and exciting to contemporary listeners and surely integrated in order to boost album sales. Lastly, a glaring reduction of the jovial bird calls is one of Gene Rains’ rare missteps in my humble opinion, for they were so skillfully interwoven with the shimmering aura on most tracks off Lotus Land, bolstering and augmenting its vividness while pushing it nearer to the works of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman – whether that’s a weakness or a selling point is up to you. Read on why my personal nickname for Far Across The Sea is The Dreamy Album.


Far Across The Sea, the title-giving track best known for being performed by Hawaiian legend Alfred Apaka, the discoverer of Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and Gene Rains, starts with polyphonous vibraphone glints and shimmering wind chimes that drive the tropical illusion further. Peterson’s backing piano notes and Watanabe’s exotic percussion are subordinates to Rains’ easy-going performance on the vibes, its melodies traversing for very short times to Far Eastern lands, but otherwise remaining in faux-Polynesian realms.


Busy Port off Denny’s iconic Exotica record is presented next and is one of Rains’ very few lively skits on the album. The classic melody is unexpectedly played on a xylophone rather than the vibes that are used for short interludes and bridges. Watanabe delivers his most audible performance on the maracas, claves and bongos. Even though this version is quite lively, Arthur Lyman’s interpretation on his 1959 album Bahia still takes the cake by being more exuberant due to additional chants and bolder, punchier vibraphones. Tropic Trade Winds is the first real winner to my mind, starting with mysterious vibes and loud hand cymbals while background claves and a possible field recording of highly chirping birds is added – no human could create such noises, but I wouldn’t bet on this perception. The rest of the track consists of extremely dreamy vibraphone notes that almost seem to be improvisations. I like this song so much because of its omission of a catchy melody. It is all about the ambience, and the permanent repetition of the bird calls further amplify the paradisiac atmosphere. If you are a fan of the dreamy side of vibraphone-laden Exotica, this is a top pick!


Love Theme From The World Of Suzie Wong is a highly contemporary addition that refers to the 1960 movie starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan and puts the focus on Peterson’s swirling piano notes; it is nonetheless drowned by the plasticity of the vibes most of the time, especially so on the second half of the song. The inclusion of the theme is even exotic by Exotica standards and for this reason alone makes this another standout track, although I’m not too fond of the melody because it never causes me to hum along with it, no matter how often I listen to it – as I’ve written, Far Across The Sea is no Easy Listening album, and the Love Theme isn’t either.


Strange Cargo is presented in a vivified form, with the staccato drums in the limelight juxtaposed to superb bongo intermissions and clearly audible bass slaps by Grant Jr. Still, Rains’ vibes are yet again the carrying main ingredient, whereas Sayonara is a magnificent Far Eastern mélange of swirling pianos, lucent vibraphone melodies and a gorgeous koto that is, alas, only briefly played. The teamwork is specifically worth mentioning, for no instrument is on the foreground here. All in all, another top choice for fans of the Far Eastern flavor.


Adventures In Paradise is a tremendously melodious interpretation of the catchy theme that is very close to my heart, and it is as diverse in its instrumentation as Sayonara is, and though there are no particularly exotic instruments, the piano-vibraphone combo delivers a very romantic, majestic and care-free interpretation. Tango Tahiti is a dreamy rendition that has next to nothing to do with a tango, but consists of beautifully cascading backing vibes that work well with their brethren in the foreground. Despite the careful percussion, there is not much else going on in this song, I’m afraid, which is rudimentary but mellow as a result. Caravan is a curiously complex version that retains the mercurial mystique and Oriental feeling of this classic, but while the initial gateway to this song is a slowed-down melody, Watanabe’s percussion seems to counteract with the endemic atmosphere. The persistent rhythm shifts, however, make this a great version of Caravan which hasn’t been performed like this before (or after) this release.


While Theme From Exodus concludes the inclusion of themes with a dusky, downbeat aura, solemn pianos and glinting vibraphones bursts, You Are Beautiful is again seldom featured on Exotica LP’s and features a saccharine, romantic, vibraphone-heavy ditty whose main instrument is too loud and bold and the melody too jumpy for successfully maintaining a mellow atmosphere. Bird Of Paradise is the final track and brings back the exotic glint of Lotus Land: bird noises, Far Eastern melodies on the vibe, warm piano backings, galloping claves and flittering wind chimes float in. For fans of Lotus Land, this is the one track to deeply fall in love with. A very strong outro.


Whether the dreaminess and the reduction of the overly complex melodies are either caused by the absence of pianist Paul Conrad, an explicit influence by Decca Records on the style of the Gene Rains Group for marketing reasons or just a further stylistic refinement that the band actually came up with in the end, Far Across The Sea is mellow, soothing and best of all coherent. Bird cries or relevant field recordings are unfortunately strongly reduced, but the gently melting sustain of the vibraphone and the rather easy-going presentation are altogether selling points for Exotica fans of all kinds.


The Dreamy Album, as I keep calling it, is even harder to hunt down for a reasonable price than the two remaining LP’s and the Best Of, but is worth it for those fans of Arthur Lyman’s sound who want the vibraphone to be the main instrument – I’m raising my hand – and who long for that tropical, phantasmagoric sound that is far away from reality, but so overly enchanting and mellifluous that happiness increases time and again when you listen to it. Lotus Land might be more diversified and eclectic, a style that is resurrected in Rains’ third and last album Rains In The Tropics of 1962, but let me stress once more that this is definitely no Easy Listening album in the classical sense, but a sophisticated work by the group whose vibraphone never sounded more glistening than on this album. After this bold change of style into dreamy destinations, it is all the more bewildering for me that the band wasn’t present in the collective mind of the contemporary Exotica crowd and more successful in the 60’s as a result. This dedication to Rains’ music is, as most of my reviews, way too late, but consider his music worth your while, as it is beautiful.  


Exotica Review 068: Gene Rains – Far Across The Sea (1961). Originally published on May 12, 2012 at