Andre Kostelanetz
Lure Of Paradise






Lure Of Paradise by the Russian Easy Listening maestro Andre Kostelanetz (1901–1980), released in 1959 by Columbia Records, is the fitting foil to his 1954 opus Lure Of The Tropics. This assertion, while crystal clear due to the titular correlation, is worth noting time and again, for the market conditions are entirely different for each respective release. While Lure Of The Tropics can be considered a milestone that foresaw the yearning for exotic tunes in a similar way than like-minded composers like Les Baxter and Nelson Riddle, Lure Of Paradise is, if one is being sarcastic, not much more than a reaction to the booming market of Exotica records.


However, let's not be sarcastic for the moment, pretty please, and concentrate on the distinctive qualities of the release. Preposterously, what I consider a major flaw is actually a big plus in regard to Lure Of Paradise: it is chock-full of 15 orchestral renditions of classics that are baked into 11 tracks. Usually I dislike albums that don't feature at least one or two unique compositions, but here I am very much excited, for a bunch of tunes were already featured on Lure Of The Tropics. To put it into modern words: Kostelanetz remixes himself! It is exciting to see what has changed during the timespan of five years that lies between the release dates of both albums.


Now that the genre of paradisiac tunes got its name in 1957 – it is from this point on called Exotica, of course –, is this fact being reflected by Kostelanetz' new takes on previously conducted material like Lotus Land, Kashmiri Song or The Moon Of Manakoora, i.e. did Kostelanetz use exotic percussion, a few mallet instruments or even a birdcall or two? We presume that we don't know the answer yet and will find it out together in the following paragraphs (yes, that's proper didactics).

Starting the LP off with a Hawaiian medley of Aloha Oe and Song Of The Islands, Kostelanetz pays tribute to the craving for Polynesian songs. And wow, the first surprise already hits the listener in the first few seconds: a field recording of ocean waves! If you're yawning about this commonplace inclusion, think again, since we're having a orchestral record in front of us, not a release by an Exotica quartet! Lure Of The Tropics dismissed field recordings altogether, but here on Lure Of Paradise, Kostelanetz is probably inspired by the big names of the genre. Golden shimmering steel guitars mark the beginning of the world-famous melody of Aloha Oe, yet again an unexpected ingredient. Hollywood strings enter the scenery and glitzy glockenspiel droplets add sparkling scintillae to the saccharine audio syrup. Alto flutes start playing the melody of Song Of The Islands, and gleaming harps plus spiraling xylophones boost the dreamy mood further while the strings become louder and the presentation more fanfare-like. These two tracks alone show a strong shift in style: reducing the strings in favor of exotic instruments and then bringing the strings back full-force to underline romance, adventure or happiness.


Jerome Kern's and Anne Caldwell's Kalua is next, and the mélange of ukuleles, warped steel guitars and refreshingly reverberating vibraphone notes is intimate, sunny and a welcome mimicry of Exotica quartets. Naturally, the orchestra strikes back soon enough with silky horn sections, convivial piano chords and pizzicato harp strings. Not a glimpse of pompousness is to be found; this is an upbeat, almost swinging song full of glee. Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein's show tune Bali Ha'i comes next, and it is surprisingly mysterious, with dark brass gleams and enigmatic flute tones that start to quaver later on. A field recording of a thunderstorm is rumbling along, and when the main melody sets in, the sea is calm again and sections of romance with melting horns interchange with cheeky xylophone-laden, percussion-heavy counterparts. Yes, Kostelanetz is now officially keen on bamboo rods, congas and rain sticks!

While the rendition of Harry Owens's Sweet Leilani is tremendously soothing and saccharine because of its reliance on technicolored Hollywood strings, sunset-evoking brass mellifluousness and downspiraling flute tones, the three-part medley of On The Beach At Waikiki, Hawaiian War Chant and the less often interpreted My Honolulu Tomboy is a rapid-firing, military march-like cocktail of swinging horns, honky tonk pianos and marimba bits. This triptych reminds me of the Jamaican Rhumba that was featured on Lure Of The Tropics, and I dislike both the Rhumba and the three-part presentation to be honest, for I prefer the dreamy side of Exotica way more and am less fond of any eupeptic jumpiness.


The last song of side A, however, pays off big time: Gates Of Haven is a real Japanese court ceremonial written by Hidemaro Konoye. It's a terrific work, and Kostelanetz treats it with respect and great care. Japanese drums are the initial point, followed by a solemn flute solo full of mystique. Deliciously cherubic high-note strings are added, and as they get slightly more intense, so do the the scattered drum sections. However, the composition doesn't end in a crescendo but maintains the mood until the end. A terrific inclusion!

The following three tracks of side B are specifically close to my heart and probably the most exciting part of the whole album, as all of them were featured on Lure Of The Tropics. Launching with The Moon Of Manakoora and its vivaciously auroral xylophone whirls, the added wind chimes add plasticity to the ukulele and steel guitar goodness. The tempo is also turned up a notch, but the mellowness of the orchestra strings remains the same. This version is glintastic and followed by the Kashmiri Song, an even better take on this classic. Starting off with a Chinese gong, the chemistry between the trumpet and the rose-tinted strings is much more beautiful than on Lure Of TheTropics. I also dig the vibraphone-harp coupling which produces a maximum of resplendent lushness. This version isn't even overly kitschy. A superb rendition that ends on a sky-high steel guitar twang.


Closing off the remix session is Cyril Scott's Lotus Land which I consider one of the most essential exotic pieces ever created. It's my personal Quiet Village, and I can't get enough of its qualities. If done right, Lotus Land can be everything at once: majestic, tranquilizing, vivifying, Far Eastern and relaxing. As I've written time and again, Warren Barker's take is still the best, but Kostelanetz already proved that he is able to deliver a fantastic conduction of this very piece. The 4+ minutes long version on Lure Of Paradise is equally breathtaking and thankfully not much different. The main melody is still realized with a silky flute solo and pompous strings. However, this version is also sped up which makes it slightly less gorgeous, but that's just my opinion. The high point shortly before the two-minute mark is less eruptive and awe-inspiring than on the Tropics version, but these are minor quibbles that won't spoil anyone's fun.


The penultimate We Kiss In A Shadow is the second take on a Rodgers/Hammerstein collaboration that is wonderfully glinting due to the glockenspiels, xylophone whirls and wind chimes that are almost ubiquitously embedded in this string-focused piece of romance. The final couplet is based on Now Is The Hour and another take on Aloha Oe. The first track presents previously unheard orchestra bells in unison with blurry harp whirlwinds, flute sections and rising strings. Aloha Oe flows right in, reintroduces the gentle ocean waves and is played solely on a steel guitar, ending this orchestral album on an exotic, quartet-like mood of great calm.

Lure Of Paradise depicts the magnificent symbiosis of orchestral sections with intimate imitations of Exotica trios and quartets. Mallet instruments, steel guitars, ukuleles and even field recordings are featured prominently, it's just the birds that are missing completely, everything else is on board. Exotica fans who despise the orchestral grandeur in their most favorite genre should reconsider their opinion in regard to this release, for Kostelanetz truly succeeds in merging the intimate with the opulent. The strings are as important as the paradisiac flutes, the various mallet instruments and the liquid warmth of the harps; this is specifically noticeable on the Japanese traditional pice Gates Of Heaven. This album shows that Kostelanetz has arrived at the destination called Exotica.


Whereas Lure Of The Tropics was a strictly orchestral album, Lure Of Paradise leaves room for typical curlicues. It is Easy Listening par excellence without a shadow of a pernicious undertone. And yet, the compositions aren't saccharine at all costs; they oscillate between romance, mystique, bliss and exuberance. My conclusion may surprise you, but I have to say that I like Lure Of The Tropics better, if only a bit! It contains the better version of Lotus Land, sure, but that's not the sole reason. Malagueña, Flamingo and Poinciana are missing on Lure Of Paradise. That's no shame at all, since Paradise already features more than enough tracks while Tropics only has nine compositions. And yet I somehow prefer the orchestral beauty of 1954. Its limits show Kostelanetz' craftsmanship, and the variety of Tropics is surprisingly wide. In the end, I can recommend both albums wholeheartedly. The recycling of three tracks can be considered an actual strength, and the changes Kostelanetz made in terms of the formulae are probably more exciting for me than everything else. A must-have for Exotica fans, a great testament of the antithetic, presumably counterintuitive clashing worlds of huge orchestras and intimate Exotica groups.


Exotica Review 094: Andre Kostelanetz – Lure Of Paradise (1959). Originally published on Jul. 21, 2012 at