Terry Snyder
Persuasive Percussion






A title like Persuasive Percussion is a risky and audacious move, as similar naming conventions are often found in the Exotica genre, not all of them being worth your attention: while Stanley Black's Exotic Percussion and Irv Cottler's Around The World In Percussion (both released in 1961) are noteworthy entries that mesh the promise of their title with catchy melodies, George Cates' Polynesian Percussion (also released in 1961) is a letdown in both aforementioned regards. Drummer and percussionist Terry Snyder's (1916–1963) Persuasive Percussion actually precedes these albums by about two years and is the first of many albums by Snyder that contain the term Percussion in their respective titles.


Released in 1959 on Command Records under the watchful eyes of Enoch Light and Lew Davies, this record was one of the first stereo records that promised a never heard before stereo listening experience at home. As such, the focus is more on the sound spectrum than the melodies and compositions, one might think. In this case, the assumption is wrong. While the liner notes are a huge turn-off and only narrow the 12 renditions down on their technical aspects, Terry Snyder gathers highly skilled instrumentalists around him, hence the band name Terry Snyder & His Allstars. The band is actually a nonet.


While contemporary readers might think of a killed internet connection when they hear the term nonet, it actually describes an ensemble of a whopping nine musicians: Terry Snyder himself leads his guitarists Tony Mottola and Stanley Webb, famous organist Dick Hyman (who later played for Cal Tjader), percussionists Willie Rodriguez, Teddy Sommer and Artie Marotti, double-bassist Jack Lesberg and accordionist Dominic Cortese. Can Terry Snyder and band mates break free of the conceptual reduction? Can they create exotic panoramas and carve out inventive renditions out of the various North and South American classics? Oh yes, they can, and while there are many shortcomings and questionable instrumentations, there are also quite a few memorable interpretations on material that Exotica listeners know by heart.

All the quibbles, thoughts and addendums in the opening paragraph of this review are useless and pale once the first notes of Jimmy McHugh's and Dorothy Field's classic I'm In The Mood For Love hit the listener. It launches with delicate bongos, beaten by Terry Snyder himself. It's the most splendid opening phase I can think of, and it can be linked back to the album title without a problem, or to put it differently: Snyder persuaded me. Brazilian-style maracas, Lesberg's double bass backings and Hyman's sizzling-hot Hammond B3 organ stabs mesh well with the glistening polyphony of the vibraphones. And don't get me started on the rhythm shift in the middle of the composition that is launched with a savage bongo solo and followed by guitar-fueled accents. The bongos are incessantly in the limelight, and the vibraphones are beyond mellow. It's a surprisingly great opening of an album that primarily exists in order to be worshiped by audio- and stereophiles.


The following Whatever Lola Wants, a rendition of a track by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, is a huge letdown in terms of the exotic dreaminess, as the scope grows larger, comprising of a jazzy big band feeling with Hyman's hard-hitting organ, silky sepia-toned brass sections and cymbal-accentuated orchestra drums. The vibraphone is completely gone. Since this isn't a dedicated Exotica record, I can tolerate this shortcoming, especially so i hindsight of the classic Misirlou. I know, I know, it's the gazillionth version out there, but it's one of the better non-essential versions, meshing bass guitar chords with clinging tambourins, mystical triangles and lush wind chimes, while the famous main melody is played on either a bass flute or a trombone. It's hard to say, for it mimics an Oriental shawm with ease. Dominic Cortese's accordion notes accompany both the faux-shawm and the vibraphone which is used to play parts of the main melody, creating a mirage via a quickly played two-note heatwave. 

Spy alert code red: Gordon Clifford's and Harry Barris' I Surrender, Dear is on the agenda, and while its title implies kitsch by the numbers, Terry Snyder & His Allstars deliver a tropical spy Tango with punchy bongos, dark saxophone sections and spiraling xylophones, the latter of which are used in tandem with Tony Mottola's guitar for the main melody. A further fortification of the melody is realized with accordion sweeps that inherit the typical Portuguese Tango attitude. Lively cowbells and – according to the audiophile liner notes – rasping scratchers round off the listening experience of this exhilarative track with the explicitly amorous scent.


The auspiciously titled Orchids In The Moonlight by Edward Eliscu, Gus Kahn and Vincent Youmans is unfortunately less dreamy than its title suggests, as it is actually yet another amorous Tango, but consists of enough promising ingredients to be likeable, for example the cascading vibraphone beats which are backed by a marimba that is played in unusually low regions. A sunset-red piano theme of melodramatic devotion and utter affection (eugh!) is backed by double bass twangs, a wonderfully mercurial steel guitar and the archetypical Tango shakers that distantly remind of military marches.


The final piece of side A is the first of two compositions written by Cole Porter. His exclamation I Love Paris does need that certain instrument in order to fulfill the cliché. What could it be? The accordion, of course, and Cortese plays it in a rapid-firing style, making this the quickest song. Frantic bongos are interwoven, and while they aren't exactly French, they boost the tribal pressure further. After about a minute, the rhythm shifts into a lofty flute- and brass-laden mélange with cool guitar riffs by Mottola and train signal-resembling accordion streams. Unexpectedly cool! The third phase of the song returns to hyper-hectic realms with staccato xylophones and accordingly played accordions.

Side A provided few truly exotic takes, but this is about to change, as the other side comprises of higher-quality selections in this regard, but first there's another tune by Cole Porter, awkwardly called My Heart Belongs To Daddy. It's a cymbal-focused Jazz song by the numbers with dark guitar licks by Stanley Webb, another use of the accordion which oscillates between incisive thinness and bodacious euphony as well as convoluted vibraphone melodies that are so typical in the Jazz genre. Brisk clarinets and saxophones are the remaining ingredients. This tune does nothing for me. It's definitely sleazy and a metropolitan theme for city strollers, but it's less exotic.


Luckily, there's a string of four arrangements that is about to change just that: while Margarita Lecuona's Tabu lets the bongos and congas return to their former glory and marries them with the well-known melody on the alto flute, crunchy shakers, faux-shawms, wind chimes plus sun-soaked surf guitars which altogether lessen the lamenting factor of this song, thus making it a wonderfully reduced version that is rounded off by the thermal heat of the accordions, Ernesto Lecuona's The Breeze And I is presented in a hilarious version that is memorable due to its omission of anything romantic and dreamy in favor of effervescent accordion notes, xylophone spirals, paradisiac flutes, warm surf guitar twangs plus Hawaiian ukuleles and thunderous percussion. It's a great rendition and the glowing gem of Persuasive Percussion.


 The Hapa Haole classic Aloa Oe is noteworthy too, as its hammock-compatible interpretation remains true to the kitschy original, but is elevated thanks to the many mallet instruments and bells; there is always some coruscating element whirring around the cozy ukuleles and mellifluous flutes. The penultimate Japanese Sandman by Raymond Egan and Richard Whiting provides tick-tocking temple blocks, smashing Chinese cymbals, accordion notes, hollow drums, a weirdly tweaked koto-resembling guitar… and lots of Far Eastern tone sequences that end the exotic suite of side B, as the theme of the Oscar-winning film Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing finishes the album with a conga-fueled marimba melody, scattered acid guitars and a highlight, namely a theremin-like electric organ played by Dick Hyman. One final euphonious guitar tercet finishes the album on a sudden note.

Terry Snyder's first Persuasive Percussion entry is a good album. It lacks an overarching greatness, true, but comprises of many an unexpected dob that turns into a diamond under the supervision of Enoch Light and his longterm-collaborator Lew Davies. The audiophile focus is a big turnoff, and the liner notes might scare you with their cold, technical descriptions, but the music, at least some tunes, does have soul. Jimmy McHugh's and Dorothy Field's I'm In The Mood For Love, for instance, isn't just a pitch-perfect opener, but is turned into an Exotica piece, its morphogenesis being completely changed for the better! The accordion on several tunes can be considered a success as well, and the only real pity is the wasted talent of Dick Hyman whose electric or Hammond B3 organs aren't used enough; if they appear, they boost the Space-Age aura for sure.


The best rendition is clearly The Breeze And I. Not only is it featured on every third Exotica album out there, its main melody is actually great and dreamy. Terry Snyder, however, tears the nucleus of Ernesto Lecuona's masterpiece down and erects a new, vivaciously frantic version that sounds refreshing to this day, as its polished glint doesn't allow any dust particles of kitsch to fall down on it. Enoch Light's handwriting is all over this album, and a stale aftertaste cannot be completely eliminated in the end due to marketing reasons, but Persuasive Percussion does feature more varied percussive instruments and more colorful melodies than George Cates' Polynesian Percussion, so there you go. Persuasive Percussion is available on iTunes and Amazon as well as on vinyl for a cheap price, thanks to its state as a bestseller.


Exotica Review 116: Terry Snyder – Persuasive Percussion (1959). Originally published on Sep. 8, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.