Nino Nardini & Roger Roger
Jungle Obsession






Having been early childhood friends and talented musicians, the paths of Nino Nardini (actually Georges Achille Teperino, 1912–1994) and Roger Roger (no kidding, his real name, 1911–1995) crossed several times throughout the decades, but it is their 60’s and 70’s works in the fields of Space-Age, Lounge and Exotica which surprise and enchant with the most diversified and vivid compositions and arrangements.


Despite the many jocular references found in their track titles, the duo always took their music seriously, with Jungle Obsession of 1971 being their Exotica magnum opus. Released and reissued on at least five different labels, this remarkably joyful album is easily available in all forms. I am reviewing the millennial reissue on CD where the above cover artwork with the green bananas derives from (the original artwork featured a sketch of a tiger on a neon-green background). And regardless of whether you prefer bananas or tigers – what a strange statement to make –, Jungle Obsession features twelve exciting Exotica tracks – plus one bonus track on the CD version – that cater to everyone’s taste.


Since it was recorded in the early 70’s, expect a successful potpourri of Funk, Surf Rock, Jungle Exotica and symphonic structures. Usually, such a wide array of clashing styles does not work, and if it does, it happens in contemporary DJ sets, but not in distinctive works of art. But believe me, Jungle Obsession is for the 70’s what Michel Magne’s Tropical Fantasy has been for the 60’s: an unbelievably vivid and exhilarative presentation which is at times so much over the top that it causes strong reactions on all points of the compass. By all means though, go and pre-listen to this fantastic work full of twelve unique compositions, with three of them creating a Jungle Book-related setting. If you are searching for uplifting hooks, bongo rhythms, dreamy ambiences and infinitesimally darker settings, you have found the best Exotica album of the 70’s.


The eponymous lead title Jungle Obsession opens the miraculous lucky bag with a deliciously hollow bongo groove and additional goblet drums which underline an organ-based melody of the eupeptic kind. Neither mystery nor ritualistic procedures are the driving force. This is going to be a fun ride. Almost galactic electric piano stabs are intermixed, and it is here, after 30 seconds, that vintage Exotica fans repudiate this release, as the electronic factor is admittedly high due to the synergetic genre fusion. But the textures are so catchy, and the mixture of an urban Funk feel in-between the green jungle thicket works marvelously well, even more so since the percussion is revved up as well, becoming more eclectic, cymbal-laden and timpani-interspersed. Electric guitars screech in the background, a stylistic momentum which Geoff Love’s Funk Exotica project called Mandingo is quite fond of as well. Despite the serried percussion layer, its lacunar pattern nonetheless allows the sustain to float into the distance. Due to the vivid attack level, this skillful creation of wideness is thus realized and maintained. Jungle Obsession is not the best track on the album, not by far, and yet does the overtly jocular approach as the leitmotif show its characteristic traits right from the get-go.


The following Murmuring Leaves intermingles faux-field recordings of tropical birds, alto flutes and coconut shell chimes to a majestic concoction. It is here that Nardini and Roger are in true-spirited Exotica realms, as a few chords of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village are baked in. Otherwise, this tune succeeds with its enchanting panorama of lush greenery. No bongos or congas are here, just mellow bass accents, paradisiac flutes and a blurry but all more solemn choir at the ending phase of the tune. An utterly great tune for the dreamy side of Exotica and naturally one of my favorites as well.


Up next is the parabolic Mowgli, a magnificent meeting point of two Exotica-related genres that usually don’t merge too easily: Surf Rock and Retro Latin. Dreamy electric piano sparkles, fizzling maracas, warm synth strings in the background and the mirage of a liquedous steel guitar continue the dreaminess of Murmuring Leaves with a stronger focus on the percussion side. Once the synthetic backing strings wane in the middle of the tune, the steel guitar plays an improvised Funk melody with small scents of underlining marimba notes that boost the jungle feeling big time. The final phase of Mowgli mirrors the introductory setup, letting the tune end in the synthesizer-fueled way it began. A friend in need is a friend indeed: Bagheera surprises with a melancholic-majestic hybridization of a colorful string orchestra, a humming mixed choir, wah-wah guitar backings and vibraphone blebs. This is the most Pop-like track by the duo, heavily relying on a catchy melody in a cinematic setting. The legato of the strings allows to sing along to them with ease.


While Creeping Danger remains in wraithlike string-heavy realms with another surf guitar infusion and a slightly widened tension that truly lives up to the sleazy-vivacious Exotica hooks in the veins of Cal Tjader’s and Stan Appplebaum’s tune Sake And Greens off Breeze From The East (1964), the strongly Occidental Malaysia meshes nocturnal guitars with tropical spiraling xylophone notes. Although the evocation of a moon-lit scenery is welcome, the reduction and sustain-filled sound waves unveil a slight flaw of this arrangement, namely an overly spartan percussion theme that is incessantly looped and remains unchanged until dynamic maracas are admixed at the end. However, if a mild-mannered spy theme is needed, Malaysia should be considered. Its most stellar inclusion comprises of the vivid xylophone.


Jungle Spell returns to the ticking clicks and plasticity of the percussion-heavy opener, but otherwise juxtaposes a tremendously catchy echoey male choir in tandem with a female opera singer, rising xylophone breezes and sun-dried melodies to the birdcall-laden scenery. It is hard to explain, but the short staccato chords of the chorus are full of energy and resemble Les Baxter’s Night In Buenos Aires off one of his later Exotica albums Que Mango! (1970) quite a bit, incidentally the second-best Exotica album of the 70's, I believe. Taking all elements of Jungle Spell into consideration, this tune should actually not work at all, but Nardini and Roger truly succeed in delivering a vivid, kitsch-free quirkiness with a – to my ears – clear homage to Mr. Baxter.


The White Snake, on the other hand, moves into the mystical primeval forest territory of Frank Hunter’s one and only genre-related opus White Goddess (1958), as animal noises, claves and djembes plus triangles are spread out on an easygoing downbeat. What Hunter could not foresee back then is generously added by the duo: amazingly drugged and bedazzling funk guitar chords tremble in-between the many fissures of the arrangement. What did not work on Malaysia is splendidly achieved here, a delicate high-plasticity concoction of sound and space. The slow rhythm helps the warped esprit to unfold. A strong favorite! And suddenly, one of Mowgli’s foes appears: Shere Khan is nothing like the movie depiction, in that an enormous amount of rose-tinted strings together with interspersed glockenspiels and crunchy funk guitars is towering on top of a bongo aorta. The rising guitar theme is utterly catchy, but it is the languorous strings that make this a heartfelt Space-Age anthem, delivered only a few years late. Being one of the lushest compositions, it ends the Jungle Book triptych in a mellow way.


The remaining three tracks are of equal quality, as Jungle Obsession is really one of these albums whose strength and aesthetics do not degrade over the course of its runtime. Tropical Call is an excellent example in this regard. Yep, it is yet another string-heavy tune, but this is definitely no flaw, as the return to this formula is definitely worthwhile. The duo changes the undertones, and decidedly so, for this composition evokes the lamenting yearning of Margarita Lecuona’s Taboo without ever fully crossing its path in the form a melody-related rip-off. A conventional jazzy double bass backing – a first on the album – with high-region bongos backs the celestial string heaviness. The strings oscillate between dole, mystery and sudden sunbursts of joy, providing a cinematic feeling. It may seem like an overly mundane assertion, but Tropical Call is everything one wants it to be, as its shifts evoke yearning, romance, adventure and enigma. A complex but uncomplicated hymn!


The appearing Bali Girl takes the crown in regard to the stomach-massaging bassline and the ultimate delivery of coolness and independence. The guitar melody encapsulates a surfer’s life perfectly, and the attached xylophone finally plays Far Eastern tone sequences, also for the first time here. A few violin strings join the fun, as the duo of Nardini and Roger proves once more that the many counteracting and opposite instruments work flawlessly together. What starts in a Surf Rock way morphs into Asian glitz, which itself is transformed into a mysterious jungle theme.


The farewell is initiated by Jungle Mistery, a surprisingly freely flowing, well, freestyle tune with a hammock-friendly reverie in the form of sunny guitar chords, gently beaten bongos and raspy triangles. Rhythm and melody don’t find each other, but do their own thing separately, making this more of an Ambient Exotica (!) vignette than an actual piece of music. And as is often the case, such experiments prove to be the best tunes of an artist. And if the preceding eleven songs had not been so enormously superb, Jungle Mistery would have taken the cake. But anyway, this mellow jam session is among the cream of the crop. The CD version actually contains a bonus track called Tropical (Muggy Weather Xtra Tune) full of croaking guiros, pristine cymbals and an interesting oscillation between jazzy bass melodies and late Space-Age strings unleashing three differing consecutive notes all the time until marimba droplets mark the end of the silver disc.


The 70’s were not such a bad decade for Exotica fans after all. Sure, nothing can beat the Golden 50’s and Colorful 60’s, but it is due to Nino Nardini and Roger Roger and a few other projects and conductors that the vivacious lachrymosity of Exotica advected into the Funk-fueled 70’s. Jungle Obsession is a wonderful masterpiece that does not take itself all too serious, but is based on serious production values and the sheer will of coming up with a carefully crafted artifact that shows the utter devotion of the duo for the then deceased genre. If I compare their love for Exotica to the hastily produced ephemera in order to cash in big time and to not miss the bandwagon, I cannot help myself but congratulate these guys for their kudos and affection. No other album of the 70’s features that deep a knowledge about the genre or the particular emotional proximity to lush jungles, the lounge-related lifestyle and the yearning for traveling around the globe, all three of which are the driving factors of many albums. So this is a work of art from deep within the heart, and while I cannot stress this fact enough, I do not want to overexpose it any further.


Jungle Obsession works splendidly well even if you detach it from its context or decade: from the organ-infused starting point over the lavish percussion sections to the superb string-heavy latter half, Nardini and Roger are keen on the melodies and in this regard close to Walter Wanderley's way of arranging his albums, especially so his superb Exotica cornerstone Rain Forest of 1966. The various birdcalls and animal cries are only of minor importance and possibly taken from sound library LP's anyway, and yet does the jungle motif ooze into the ears through the tonality and characteristics of the instruments themselves, and this is probably the biggest achievement an Exotica artist can receive. Jungle Obsession is a masterpiece. I cannot recommend a specific track, even though I have my strong favorites, as mentioned throughout the review. But regardless of anyone's personal taste, Nino Nardini's and Roger Roger's depicted jungle shines and gleams… in aural technicolor!


Exotica Review 144: Nino Nardini & Roger Roger – Jungle Obsession (1971). Originally published on Nov. 10, 2012 at