The New York Jazz Quartet
Gone Native






Here is a short synopsis of this review in advance: Gone Native is a gem of an album that remains relatively unknown among Exotica fans. Sure enough, one cannot know each and every album that can be distantly linked to the genre, but in the case of Gone Native, the fact of omission is an eminently sad one. Closely tied to Latin Jazz and the Afro-Bop genre, the record branches off into exotic realms without any usage of vibraphones or birdcalls. Coincidentally, Gone Native is released in the same year as the mono version of Martin Denny's Exotica, 1957.


The band of the album is known by various similar names, the best known would probably be The New York Jazz Quartet (sometimes the term Ensemble is used as a description instead of Quartet). Due to the generic band name and since there were and still are many other New York-related Jazz quartets, the names of the four players are prominently featured on the front sleeve: Herbie Mann is the flutist, Mat Mathews is the accordionist, Joe Puma is the guitarist and Whitey Mitchell plays the double bass. Additional drums are played by Manuel Ramos and Teiji Ito. Each player is a luminary and well-skilled in dealing with his instrument. The album, whose eleven tracks are luckily available as a digital download version on iTunes and Amazon, can be divided into three differently flavored parts: there are four glaring Latin Jazz compositions that are altogether jaunty, fast-paced and convivial – happiness ensues.


Then there are three songs dedicated to the signature instruments of the quartet. They are carried by the respective main instrument and backed by bongo patterns. And then there are four remaining tracks that can be tied to the Exotica genre, two of them being utterly gorgeous and among my favorite downbeat genre-related songs of all times! All compositions are unique and original, and despite the nocturnal cover, virtually each and everyone of them depicts bright sunshine-laden landscapes and locations. I will mention them below and dissect their various strengths and occasional weaknesses.


To be honest, Gone Native starts with a disappointment in terms of the exotic factor, but is getting better from this point on. It launches with March Of The Sugar-Cured Hams, an exhilarative Latin Jazz ditty with an over-the-top flute melody, various accordion stabs in the middle and punchy sun-laden guitar twangs. It is definitely charming and melodious and positively quirky, but considering the album title and the beautiful front artwork, the first impression – that is, the opening track – is all the more important, and this song doesn't reflect the enchanting nature of Exotica.


Thankfully, the second offering is much better, no, it’s even brilliant: the slowly meandering Jungle Noon features gorgeously mellow bongo beats, hammock-compatible laid back guitar strings and soothing alto flute accompaniments that are later turned up a notch and depict a paradisiac landscape. This is one of the most terrific Afro-Jazz pieces of the balmy kind I have ever encountered. The mood is perfectly silky, there is no acidy or mercurial element in there, all instruments mesh together, and since the quiescence in the background is omnipresent, the plasticity of the bongos’s sustain is all the more delicious. I consider it a fitting foil to such classics as Martin Denny’s version of Waipio, Ted Auletta’s take on Makaha or The Surfmen’s original arrangement named Orchid Lagoon. Jungle Noon is a splendidly dreamy composition that is not often considered in the realms of Exotica, but is one of my essential tunes for lazy days in the sunlight – while at the same time, it also encapsulates a nocturnal mood.


After this terrific track, it can only go downhill, but Mat At Bat isn’t too bad at all. As its title already suggests, it’s a rapid-firing accordion-fueled trip with Mat Mathews in the center together with incessant double bass backings by Whitey Mitchell and intertwined galloping bongo beats. It evokes wild rides in Sicily or Rouen and presents a European-flavored take on Exotica. While the following I’m Alone On Sunday is slightly melancholic downbeat skit with an especially silkened alto flute melody, Puma’s pizzicato plucking on his guitar and an easygoing final passage with all members playing altogether, Oi Vay, Calypso returns to the jumpy flute passages and good spirits of the opener with an even stronger Latin spirit due to an intermixed chorus singing "Oi Vay". The sun is almost perceptible on the skin while this song is running, and an earthen dose of Latin chants is presented two years later in Augie Colón's 1959 release Sophisticated Savage as well, so if you're a fan of this skillful percussionist, you might also like Oi Vay, Calypso.


The following Let Me Remember is the perfect symbiosis of Alex Keack’s Surfers Paradise with Milt Raskin’s Kapu, as their warm topoi of flutes, accordions and bongos were already established by the New York Jazz Quartet, which means that this is indeed a splendid Exotica track and another mellifluous composition with an intimate majesty and the feeling of contentment.


Side B starts in the same manner as side A: Coo Coo Calypso is a vivaciously shining track with sky-high flute eruptions, warm guitar sprinkles, mesmeric accordion accompaniments and short but delicate bongo bridges that connect the various melodious sections. If you can’t get enough of that Latin feeling, this song is as good a choice as March Of The Sugar-Cured Hams and Oi Vay, Calypso. The following Joe Blow puts Mr. Puma into the epicenter with not much else but opulent guitar strings and a backing bongo beat that is coupled with the rhythmically pulsating sparkles of wood sticks. It’s probably the most underwhelming song of the album. I get that this is a showcase song for Joe Puma’s skills – as was Mat At Bat for Mat Mathews on side A – but since I’m focusing on (and longing for) exotic material, this particular take doesn’t deliver anything that’s related to the genre.


Trade Winds returns into the realms of Milt Raskin with gorgeously iridescent sweeps of two different flutes coupled together. I don’t know who the second flute player is in this case, but Herbie Mann accomplishes to play it smooth and auroral. The double bass backings are vibrant and the accordion sections merge well with the flutes. A top pick for Exotica fans who prefer the mollifying tranquility over faster paced song structures, like the following Sambulu for instance, which is nonetheless a superb Latin track that almost falls back to the established formula found in all the Latin-related tracks on Gone Native, but here it offers three important twists: firstly, the literally warbled flute tones turn the energy up a notch. Secondly, the bongo groove is frantic in the given context, augmenting the gumption. And lastly, probably even most importantly, Mathews’ accordion is in the limelight, turning the warmth up a notch by providing glimpses of romance with each bursting chord.


The final The Mann Act rounds the album off with Herbie Mann’s flute escapades. As usual, a backing bongo groove and spiraling double bass lines provide the apposite background for a bubbly improvised performance on the flute. Yet again, I’m not too keen on the feistiness, but the flute does sound exotic in the end.


All in all, Gone Native is a gorgeous album for several reasons. For one, its Latin focus isn't too glaring. There are no brass instruments to be found, there is no lamento, no melodrama, no heartache. It's all about good times, jovial moods and soothing depictions of locations in close vicinity of the jungle. Secondly, the album title might promise things that aren't in here, but that's for the better: this album is not about savage beats and eclectic rhythms. The percussion usually underlines the interplay of the band members, all the more so in the tracks that are dedicated to their signature instruments. Thirdly, the Exotica skits are magnificent and cater exactly to my taste and meet my demands to the point. Jungle Noon and Trade Winds are the clear highlights, very soothing and relaxing, while Let Me Remember is only slightly melancholic, offering the same exotic accordion goodness akin to Milt Raskin that made his one-off Exotica release so grand. If you want to cherry-pick the exotic tunes, consider these three, as the other material ventures into Afro Bop territories that sound still refreshingly exotic due to the paradisiac flute and the occasional accordion chords.


Gone Native is a splendid album altogether, and a total surprise if you consider the jazzy approach, the instruments and players that were involved in the process of its creation. That all eleven compositions were never included on any other release before makes this an even more valuable album. Definitely recommended for the exotic tunes, and if you are keen on the joyful kind of Latin music, this often neglected and relatively unknown album is definitely worth it.


Exotica Review 090: The New York Jazz Quartet – Gone Native (1957). Originally published on Jul. 7, 2012 at