Of The Americas
Mambo King Pérez Prado (1916–1989) and his fiery brass riffs are well-known to lovers of Latin music all over the world, and the eclectic percussion patterns of this pianist and composer are equally famous. He released the great Voodoo Suite in 1955 already, foreshadowing the Exotica genre thanks to its tribal rhythms, sizzling-hot horns and pitch-black ritualistic chants. The whole side A was booked for this eponymous suite, while side B featured classical Mambo renditions, most often of the friendly and saccharine kind. It is hence side A with its awe-inspiring, incredibly long track which is hailed to this day by Exotica listeners as one of the less-interpreted, but all the more masterful anthems, as it sits right in-between the intimate material of soon-to-evolve Exotica quartets and the gigantic orchestras in the veins of Andre Kostelanetz and, of course, Les Baxter. It took Prado seven long years to come up with both a spiritual and thematic successor of this positively wild pre-Exotica entry: Exotic Suite Of The Americas, released in 1962 on RCA Victor, relies on the same formula as before. Side A features the titular suite, while side B brightens the mood with eupeptic Mambo takes, two of them written by Prado himself. Of course, the times had changed in 1962, with the Exotica genre reaching its peak and many cocktail lounges and tiki bars bustling throughout the United States. Does the visionary Pérez Prado succeed again? He does, especially so on side A, as expected, but also with the additional six glitzy Mambo cuts on side B which provide the sunny counterpart to the dusky, disturbing gloominess of the suite. I'm in awe, and I am going to tell you why this is the case.
As I have stated above, Exotic Suite Of The Americas inherits the formula of Pérez Prado’s Voodoo Suite, and such being the case, the entirety of side A is dedicated to the eponymous suite which comprises of seven subtitles and phases. The (later reappearing) Theme Of Two Worlds launches the album with a surprisingly doleful and yet modern downbeat spy theme complete with deep piano notes, sunset-colored steel guitar twangs which conflate with the darkness, and lamenting violin strings which add majesty to the arrangement, but boost the sadness further. It is no vivacious start of this Exotica classic, but one minute into the LP, the brazen horn blasts appear and almost elbow the gloomy mood out of their way. The silky maracas schlep themselves forward throughout this introductory phase, but soon enough phase two called Amoha rectifies the situation: croaking guiro shakers, droning timpani and fulminant congas whose sustain cut through the grayness rev up the excitement in tandem with the oboe; something is looming, and whatever it is, the strings hold it back for now, with the acidified brass stabs luring it to the front, for Criollo is next with its rapid-firing maracas and guiros, savage chants and hectic bongos. This is Exotica! Everything is expanded: the tempo, the joviality in the form of the seven-note melody as played by the brass players and flutists, and the rotor-like staccato of the maracas. Unfortunately, this section is way too short. It leads to the reprise of Theme Of Two Worlds, which itself makes room for a thunderous fifth phase: Uamanna Africano intermixes high energy chants, deliberately dirty Afro-Cuban trumpets and a trembling wall of menacing bongos, only illuminated by the occasionally screeching strings. But best of all is the drum section that gets rid of any melody, only featuring bongos, congas, djembes, incisive cymbals, tambourins and screams. Turn up the volume, as this is a ritualistic masterpiece, out of this world and absolutely mind-blowing! Blues In C Minor decelerates the tempo and presents a funny Dixieland-evoking piano-fueled brass theme, and the sheer power and energy of these over the top played instruments make this a jocular and enjoyable ride that is finished with the final presentation of Prado’s Theme Of Two Worlds. Despite the dusky mood, it is a highly intriguing suite that may be inferior to the ultimate beast we know as the Voodoo Suite, but makes a very strong point with the über-tribal blight of Uamanna Africano which features one of the most intimidating Chaino-esque drum sections ever created; the scope is large, reverb and sustain always perceptible, and the chants are beyond good and evil. It is this part that elevates the Exotic Suite Of The Americas.
Side B offers six additional tracks that have next to nothing to do with side A; again, this is expected, as it mirrors the concept of Voodoo Suite, presenting both more intimate arrangements played by fewer players and ginormous high-production brutes. The first offering is Midnight In Jamaica, and it is a real treat, as Pérez Prado himself came up with the composition. Despite its title, it is meshing sun-soaked acoustic and acid guitars with a crazy harpsichord, muted trumpets and silky maracas. This ebullient Mambo displays anything but fun and joy. It would be a perfect melody for an ice cream van or a piñata party. The following Mama Yo Quiero, originally written by Al Stillman, Vincente Paiva and Jaraca, is a well-known Afro-Cuban ditty, and is loaded with various brass instruments which play gently enough to preserve the warmth; it is the middle section, however, where the amount of horns is expanded and which is most successful, further boosting this melodic and uplifting Latin classic. The interwoven bass guitar rounds off the wall of horns. While Son Of A Gun returns to fast-paced Dixielands with a screaming Pérez Prado, similarly screeching trumpets and a doleful-lamenting melody, Jacqueline And Caroline is the third and final composition handed in by Prado; as its title suggests, this must be a convivial, joyful arrangement, and it sure is: the main melody is either played on a trumpet or a steel guitar, and the accompaniment features traces of a Hammond organ and lots of maracas. It is not overly exotic, but the sunshine it encapsulates is brought right into the face of the listener. Prado’s take on José Padilla’s El Relicario brings back the clarion trumpets and multiplies their numbers. The rhythmic section remains largely the same, with Hammond organ scents and lots of maracas playing together, but it is the big band approach, the dirty saxes as well as the resplendent room for improvisations that let El Relicario stand on its own feet and make it less formulaic than Prado’s own Jacqueline And Caroline. The final offering I Could Have Danced All Night is a Latinized take on Alan Jay Lerner’s and Frederick Loewe’s Jazz classic of 1956, and to be honest: it is fantastic! The dirty sax, the bass guitar and the many maracas are all good, but finally, Prado remembers the bongos and timpani and lets them clash with brass sections that are as gigantic as they are gorgeous. They outshine everything else and let the big scope of Prado’s production shimmer through one last time.
It is true, Exotic Suite Of The Americas repeats the formula of the 1955 LP Voodoo Suite, but since so many years are between these releases and Prado did not rely on this concept time and again – which, I might add, is actually a pity –, this is definitely no flaw or tiresome one-trick pony. Side A is chock-full of menacing drums and beat patterns, and while I am less fond of the downbeat lamento that does not live up to the tribal hype of the middle section, it succeeds as a whole and provides a gargantuan listening experience, dark and bubbling, with a wide soundscape in a nocturnal setting. Side B is equally compelling, though completely different, with sun-dried guitars and absolutely fantastic brass hooks in most of the material. A few tunes, however, are a bit too thin and intimate, an observation that should not put off the prototypical Exotica listener of trio and quartet material, but is all the more important to state due to the large cinematic scope of some of the Mambo takes. The brass hooks alone are worth it, but the added bongos and congas are the icing on the cake and used far too less. I could listen to them for hours. Luckily, Exotic Suite Of The Americas is easily available as a digital download and on CD, as it has been rightfully packaged with Voodoo Suite. Recommended for those who are searching a truly tribal outing, with honey-sweet Mambos as an afterthought-less addition.
Exotica Review 138: Pérez Prado – Exotic Suite Of The Americas (1962). Originally published on Oct. 26, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.