Walter Wanderley
Rain Forest






Walter Wanderley (1932–1986) may have been a classically trained pianist, but to Exotica fans and Lounge lovers he is best known and admired for his positively weird and downright trippy organ infusions which he unleashed in many Latin albums. His exotic opus Rain Forest, recorded in New Jersey over the short period of just two days in May 1966 and released in the same year on Verve Records, is an über-vivacious work full of neon-colors and several tints of green. Sorry, but I have to say it: forget about famous organist Dick Hyman, at least for the moment. Walter Wanderley outshines the already infamous skills of his colleague due to the vivid realization and the delicate textures of his equipment. 12 songs are presented, all of them better known Brazilian or Latin compositions.


Wanderley and his team of four musicians – flutist Joe Grimm, percussionist Bobby Rosengarden (of Like Bongos! fame), trombonist Urbie Green and the rarely featured guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli – achieve something very important: killing off the gloomy tone sequences of the originals and turning them into rapturous bliss. And this approach is somewhat dated. Unfortunately. The songs themselves are not dated at all, but the focus on the organs is. You know the saying, they don’t produce albums like this anymore. Rain Forest is a tremendously suave and catchy album, void of any saccharine kitsch or syrupy setting. The Samba feeling is omnipresent, one uplifting tune follows the other, and curiously enough is the variety maintained and nurtured by the various ways in which Wanderley plays the organ and the many percussion-related treats. Side A is the pinnacle of Wanderley’s exotic cuts, as side B is more stripped down, possibly due to the unavailability of the other musicians. Then again, the album was recorded on two consecutive days, so whatever led to the organ-focused arrangements which make up the majority of side B, it is up to Wanderley and Rosengarden to fill most of side B all by themselves. It is about time I feature one of my favorite Exotica albums with the most easygoing amounts of jazzy traits, and I take my time, as Rain Forest is absolutely worth it.


The entry into the Rain Forest leads to Summer Samba, a Latin classic originally written by Marcos Valle, Paulo Sérgio Valle and Norman Gimbel. Walter Wanderley and his crew do not waste any time with unnecessary lead-ins or careful opening sections. They prefer to unchain a sunburst instead: the band leader’s downwards spiraling Hammond B3 organ notes in tandem with the spectral legato infusion as well as Bobby Rosengarden’s gentle maracas and wood sticks make this a decidedly Lounge-focused opener, but in the most vivid way. The tempo is laid back, the textures of the organs gleam and the melodies are tremendously catchy. And despite the minimalism due to the lack of flutes, guitars or trombones, the soundscape is lush, anaconda-green and uplifting. If this utter emphasis on the organ isn’t your kind of music and you want a more tropical setting, you are properly served with the second track already: It’s Easy To Say Goodbye, a rendition of a composition by Tito Madi, features a wider pool of instruments right from the get-go, since at least four of the five musicians are involved: Joe Grimm’s mellow flute tones are the first thing to appear on this tune, and after a mere second they are already conflating with Urbie Green’s good-natured trombone majesty, Bobby Rosengarden’s silky veil of fizzling maracas and Walter Wanderley’s Geiger counter-evoking staccato madness on the organ.


The following Cried, Cried by Wanderley’s close friend Luiz Antônio is almost exclusively tied to the precedent song, as the melodies and the arrangement are very similar. But Cried, Cried is much better in the end and a ginormous favorite of mine. The organ is again in the spotlight as expected, but finds itself at times in a revved up frantic drum kit segue that fuels the swing factor of this rendition. The colors that come out of the organ literally shimmer, and the chorus is only slightly more catchy due to the effervescent trombonery. The tempo of this tune is adrenaline-pushing and not recommended for daydreamers.


While the following Rain by Giuseppe Imperatore Marcone provides the first stylistic change of the formula due to its gently nocturnal downbeat majesty that is created with theremin-esque organ creeks, an utterly mellow classic piano melody, sparse but audible percussion layers and silky trombone sequences in front of the iridescence, it is Antonio Carlos Jobim’s hit of the century named The Girl From Ipanema which reintroduces the Bossa Nova anthem in a swinging version full of maracas thickets, a bustling wonkiness on Wanderley’s Hammond organ that makes Enoch Light’s take of 1973 on Future Sound Shock look pale in comparison, with a flute-trombone coupling that brings warmth and conviviality to this classic. Even if your archive is foaming over thanks to the hundreds of different versions, this one should end up in the upper regions; it is one of my favorite versions for sure, transfiguring the already gleeful esprit of the original to overexposed technicolor realms. Magnificent and essential!


Side A closes with another tune written by Tito Madi, the wonderful Beloved Melancholy which consisted of just this very emotion in Madi’s envisioned take, but you can be sure that Wanderley poeticizes any scent of grim desperation and turns it around with the thermal heat of his polyphonous organ tercets, and what he cannot accomplish by himself is supported by Urbie Green’s brazen epicurean flecks. There is anything wrong with side A. Sure, the ebullient euphoria could get tiresome, but I have not reached that point yet. And probably never will.


Side B offers a more curious selection in that it minimizes the tasks of the other players, but augments the consideration of previously unheard instruments. This side opens with a portentous title: Taste Of Sadness by Luiz Antônio and Djalma Ferreira, but no worries, Wanderley knows how to screw this mood with an interesting organ flourish at the beginning that sounds curiously whimsical and reminds of third-class organ grinders at fairgrounds. However, after ten seconds the tempo is boosted, making Taste Of Sadness the fastest tune of an already enormously uplifting album which offers another three superb additions in the form of Green’s birdcall-evoking trombone, Grimm’s paradisiac jungle flute solo and a few scattered guitar twangs in the middle section by Bucky Pizzarelli. So much for the sadness. It is nowhere to be found. 


Geraldo Cunha’s and Pery Ribeiro’s Beach Samba follows, and this long incarnation of almost four minutes is the one that injects a few traces of healthy melancholy; Grimm’s alto flute sounds both yearning and contemplative, but the atmosphere is not filled with gloom rather than tone sequences which insinuate pondering thoughts about the beauty of a sunset-illuminated beach. A welcome change of pace which is expanded by the louder percussion, a screeching trombone and raindrop-like organ blebs.


Call Me by Tony Hatch is next, and its well-known catchy melody is unfortunately a bit lost in-between the loud volume of the percussion. Like the opener Summer Samba, it is based once again on the team-up of Wanderley and Rosengarden. There are better versions out there, and I wished for an additional accentuation of the melody, but these are minor quibbles, as Wanderley continues the intrinsic sun-lit path of Rain Forest with this ditty. The following Cry Out Your Sadness by Oscar Castro-Neves is all the more surprising, for it widens the instrumental selection with coruscating glockenspiels whose sparkles scintillate around the organ-based nucleus. Again, neither flute nor trombone are featured. Oh, and the sadness is nil, as it is encapsulated in the glockenspiel droplets which can be loosely associated with the tears. But that is up to the listener and an entirely too deep thought for such a bright Brazilian Exotica album anyway.


The penultimate The Great Love, co-written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes comprises of a maracas-heavy danceable downbeat structure with many cymbals and a more Lounge-like scheme that is caused by the emphasis on the organ, a theme that is repeated on the closing track Song Of The Jet by Jobim, but splendidly modified with a deliberately tipsier organ than ever which glimmers in various colors and plays in all regions. A rhythmic shift – again a first on the album – with the most remarkable percussion section closes one of the most worry-free albums the Exotica genre has to offer.


Sigh, if only people had so much fun in a real rain forest… be it as it may, Rain Forest is a colorful journey through aural dioramas full of greeneries, birds and the Brazilian lifestyle. Walter Wanderley’s organ remains in the spotlight all the time, bringing joy and great vibes to each composition. Most of the material is smoking-fast and comprises only of Sambas and Bossa Novas, but the instrumentation and the many organ-related textures camouflage this fact. Despite the many titles with implications of negative emotions, the players make sure to ennoble them skillfully or kill them off entirely. The most doleful mood is encountered in a composition where you would not expect it at all, Beach Samba. However, this is still no crestfallen example of Latinisms, but evokes a much more contemplative, thoughtful gaze onto a quiet beach scenery. Speaking of Latinisms: Wanderley and crew elevate the occasional duskiness of the original cuts. There is no important tone sequence in minor to be found.


This is Latin music on steroids. While this assertion fuels the arguments of those critics who trash all Easy Listening albums that cross their way – fair enough –, it is actually refreshing to listen to 12 consecutive tunes that do not feature a glimpse of a cloud. Only the just mentioned Beach Samba and the balmy moon-lit aura of Rain break the eclectic percussion patterns and add a decisive amount of dreaminess. It may be a curious remark, but Rain Forest embraces the listener. It is (all too?) easily accessible, its charm entrancing, and provides the perfect entry point for modern listeners to the Exotica genre. I for one am glad that there are a few amicable and benign Exotica cuts out there that do not feature convoluted Jazz settings. Fans of Dick Hyman, Lounge lizards and organ afficionados who do not know this classic yet should investigate immediately. The LP version is all over eBay, it is regularly re-issued on CD and easily available on iTunes and Amazon in a digital download version.


Exotica Review 157: Walter Wanderley – Rain Forest (1966). Originally published on Dec. 15, 2012 at