Manuel & The Music Of The Mountains






British orchestra leader, conductor and songwriter Geoff Love (1917–1991) is my personal hero when it comes to the British take on exoticism. He is the man behind the Funk-Exotica collective Mandingo and one of the very few maestros who re-visited the almost deceased Exotica genre throughout the 70's. Flacked by producer and longterm collaborator Norman Newell (1919–2004) as well as many talented writers, he delivers four wildly savage albums with his collective of session musicians: The Primeval Rhythm Of Life (1973), Sacrifice (1973), Mandingo III (1974) and Savage Rite (1975), all of them featuring anything but unique material. In the 60's however, way before Mandingo, Love and Newell are two gentle and well-groomed men. One could say without any trace of disrespect: successful dweebs.


In the Rock-heavy 60's, Love creates a string of albums under the disguise of Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains (also occasionally named Manuel And His Music Of The Mountains). The music is generally supercharged with orchestra strings, features a mixed choir and weaves prominent guitar accompaniments into the arrangements which ought to create the notion of a carefree life in the mountains of South-American countries, with frequent travels to romantic destinations situated in Old Europe.


One of these albums is of particular interest due to its magical title: Exotica. Yup, heard that one before, eh? Martin Denny, Ted Auletta, heck, even Bananarama came up with albums of the same title, among many other acts. Since Manuel's album is released in 1965 on Columbia Records, the pleasant anticipation only grows: Columbia is known for its Exotica back catalog, symphonic records of that genre become increasingly rare treats from the mid-60's onwards, and most important above all things, Geoff Love is a talented writer, so everything fits together. But only on the pixels of your device. Not on the record itself, alas.


12 tracks are presented, eleven interpretations of classics and obscurer tunes and one unique composition by Love as the album's outro. The problem this album faces is Geoff Love’s and Norman Newell’s concept of Exotica which diverges from the faux-Polynesian motif and is thickly coated in Easy Listening sheathings. Neither the material itself nor the orchestration are exotic. The strings are incredibly sugar-sweet and the percussion is rather dull, comprising yesteryear's timpani and kettle drums, a strange tendency given the fact that these gentlemen made a percussion-related U-turn in the 70's. Manuel's Exotica has many flaws, but certain qualities as well, both of which are carved out in greater detail below.


Geoff Love and his orchestra launch the album with the eponymous Exotica, but neither is it a take on Martin Denny’s Exotica tune off Forbidden Island (1958), nor is it written by Love himself. One Mr. Richards came up with this tune originally, and even though I tend to know quite a lot of the outlandish and less covered compositions of this vivacious genre, I have only encountered this track here. It provides a good start of a saccharine album. Launching with spiraling legato strings, droning timpani and that Balearic acoustic guitar aorta which is so utterly typical for the Manuel project, there are no other instruments involved but a few fizzling maracas and additional kettle drums. The tempo is upbeat, though many tone sequences are unbearably cheesy, for instance the ones with the Flamenco-esque or Greek guitar schemes. These sections are not even bad per se since they live up to the orchestra name and induce pictures of mountain ranges awash with sunlight, but again, their syrupy melodrama has not aged well. On the plus side, there are many flamboyant string washes that resemble the quirky excitement of the more benign Space-Age works in the veins of Les Baxter’s take on Deep Night off Caribbean Moonlight (1956).


The following Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma is presented in a surprisingly sun-soaked version, with the mellow strings and their warped brethren being intertwined with a galloping beat, whimsical harp riffs and guitar twangs. The final piece of elevation is a humming mixed choir who sits right in-between the instruments and is thus neither too noisy nor too quiet. The melancholia of Autumn Leaves completely vanishes and is replaced by a technicolor ooze.


While the following Sabará by another obscure songwriter called Mr. or Mrs. Horan is a genuinely great homage to the Brazilian city and shows this prowess with a dreamy mixed choir, great guitar accompaniments that seem like thickets of greenery in-between the string-charged vertebrae and a languorously laid-back state, it is Mack David’s and Marcel Louiguy’s well-known kitschscape called Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White whose kick-off is the greatest of the whole album: a grand prelude of roundabout 13 seconds full of pizzicato strings and staccato xylophones unfortunately flows into the famous downwards spiraling lead melody which is all too chintzy. But wait, there is more, namely a sudden percussion uprising chock-full of Brazilian cowbells and other clanging devices which are joined by moony harp sections. These are altogether quality boosters and prevent an Easy Listening disaster. And without getting too apprehensive, the rapid-firing percussion is more than a slight hint to the 70’s when Love and Newell launched their afro-exotic Mandingo project.


The following Dusk is again circumventing expectations, as it is not based on Duke Ellington’s creation, but citing a songwriter named Gibbs. What a cheeky tune this is. It begins with the poignantly sunset-colored torero remainders of Pascual Marquina Narro’s España Cañí, but sails around this notion so that the listener – or better still, some inventive lawyer and mean-spirited descendant – cannot predicate the homage to Narro’s classic as a fact. The guitarscape at the beginning and the whisper-quiet strings change the intrinsic panorama of the album for quite some time, until after approximately 45 seconds the big return of the strings keeps up to Manuel’s overarching style. The soothing aura makes this a good choice for Exotica fans, the sugary Latinisms and the focus on the guitars help the arrangement. Side A closes with Forget Domani, a hit by Norman Newell which he co-wrote with Riz Ortolani and has been interpreted by colorful superstars such as Tony Mottola and even Frank Sinatra. Domani is Italian for tomorrow, and so the strings are fittingly effervescent, reminding of exciting trips through Rome or Venice, with the added handclaps and tambourins creating a hot-blooded melodrama of adventure, yearning and joy. This is way too dolce, signore Manuel.


Side B launches with a song that permeates the Exotica genre time and again, and rightfully so: Aloysio Oliveira, Ervin Drake and José Abreu invented that frantic little ditty called Tico Tico, and its iconically chopped arpeggio is preserved by Geoff Love’s take. The strings waft quickly while an eclectic placenta of plinking percussion instruments adjoins the scenery. The symphonic proportions of Manuel’s orchestra are too huge, but impressive due to the short reaction timespans of each violinist. Whereas Marcel Louiguy’s and Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose oscillates between piercing and thin violin sections on the one hand and a perfectly rose-tinted, fully bolstered euphony on the other, only one of the following two tunes by Mikis Theodorakis connects immediately with the gossamer susurration of romance that La Vie En Rose carved out previously: Life Goes On is an awfully sweet ballad with a languishing choir, floods of strings and rhythm guitar layers. The only upside is related to the enchanting harp glissando.


Theodorakis’ second tune The Dancers Of Delphi is much more uplifting and was a huge hit across Europe in the 60’s. Even though I despise its hokum with a passion, I am quite surprised about the versatile instrumental pool on this tune and wonder why Geoff Love did not use many of these ingredients on this album before. The major inclusion comprises of brass instruments which add to the folkloristic pathos. Add castanets and bouzoukis to the arrangement and you got yourself variety. It seems as if Billy Vaughn arranged this tune. The penultimate Two Strangers Met by Dorothy Squires sees Geoff Love fathoming out the power of magnanimously romantic string washes and an easygoing galloping beat structure, resulting in a less lovestruck atmosphere while still avoiding to inject a truly exotic feeling.


The finale is called Blood And Sand, a worthwhile tune if only for the fact that it is written by Manuel aka Geoff Love himself. Being clearly inspired by Bert Kaempfert’s delicately over-the-top travelog concoctions he unleashed in all of his albums, Blood And Sand draws from all previously used elements and timbres, but amplifies them big time. Spanish castanets, horn flourishes, iridescent harps, military march-like kettle drums in the latter half, elastically whirling strings as well as a histrionic choir expand the pompousness and create the dusky majesty that Dusk off side A only partially evoked. This is finally it: a symphonic tune that lives up to the genre named Exotica… figuratively arriving one minute before midnight!


With a few little exceptions, Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains delivers a lackluster and wrong impression of the term Exotica, which of course means many things to many people and is not exclusively tied to Polynesian islands and Melanesian jungles – just browse around in my Exotica Review Archive to get a sense of the whole wideness. However, regardless of what Geoff Love wants to accomplish with this project, he fails in delivering a clear-headed and comprehensible focus. The liner notes state the Latin influence, true, but it is a strangely whitewashed, alienating understanding of Latin, with some acoustic guitars here and gleaming horns there. It lacks the bile, acidity, devotion and joy, altogether commonplace ingredients in truthful Latin albums in the veins of Tito Puente, Xavier Cugat and at times even Stanley Black and Barney Kessel. Regardless of the name-dropping, this album is otherwise all about the various orchestra strings. There is anything wrong with that. It is the way these strings are played that gives me a headache. They are too kitschy and romantic, only rarely does a lofty or even warped interplay akin to the Space-Age style ensue.


That the instrumental focus is so tight but surprisingly loosened on side B is beyond me. That side features more varied arrangements and is skillfully rounded off with Love's gorgeous Blood And Sand, a unique composition whose gory title hints at Pamplona-based rituals, but is luckily domesticated. And since this particular Kaempfert homage is so successful and its melodies so catchy, I think I spot the album's real problem: the song selection. Don't get me wrong, I'm not necessarily craving for the gazillionth version of Bali Ha'i, Poinciana, Quiet Village or Flamingo, but the album title virtually screams those song. Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains therefore remains an Easy Listening band that targets a different audience.


Streamlined and silky, tame and genteel, these are the adjectives for Geoff Love's exotic vision. In the Rock-heavy 60's, his formula proved to be a counterpoint. In the 70's, however, he outdid himself with his four-album project Mandingo. Sleazy Funk and percussion-heavy Exotica mesh, clash and burst asunder. That these albums are created by the same people responsible for Manuel's orchestra is, you've guessed it, beyond me. Naturally. Manuel's Exotica and many of his other works are available in the usual digital music stores in some countries. While this won't be the last review of this orchestra, let me be clear about one thing: avoid Manuel's Exotica as a devoted fan of the genre. Its superstructure is all too sweet.


Exotica Review 201: Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains – Exotica (1965). Originally published on Apr. 4, 2013 at