Korla Pandit






It may come as a surprise to listeners who are fleetingly familiar with the oeuvre of John Roland Redd's moniker of Korla Pandit (1921–1998) or those who dismiss his organ-laden Space-Age Tropicana as picayune weirdness, but the albums of this perfectly North American organist and composer show an overarching progression whose culmination and near-completion resolves into Hypnotique, a 12-track LP released on Redd's own Fantasy label in 1961. A lot has changed since Pandit's enigmatically opaque Music Of The Exotic East (1958), the dichotomous Tropical Magic as well as the exhilaratingly flamboyant Latin Holiday (both 1959), or to be more precise: a lot has changed in-between each of these albums! This is Space-Age music with hidden structures deemed too unimportant to explicate. I'll do it nonetheless.


Hypnotique is famous for its almost unbearably intense front artwork, a highly unfitting decision, as this album turns out to be Pandit's dreamiest artifact ever and the least spacey one at the same time. Here, the topic is all about the various states of light, its daytime glow, moonlit reflections and changing colors. The majority of the presented material has these perceptions already baked into the titles. In addition, the instrumental pool widens, the album sounds much more organic. Whereas Pandit's 50's albums have a threatening darkness that increasingly grows when the reverberation of the organ's sustain coalesces with the nothingness, Hypnotique makes heavy use of a classic piano and a balmy guitar. The use of the pedal as a rhythm device has decreased to a minimum as well, so the diffusely spectral beat structures are a thing of the past. Given the romantic notions, the additional instruments and the rise in euphony and accessibility, this structure leads to another remarkable revelation: Hypnotique is a late reaction to the rising fame of the first modern boy band The Three Suns! Their organ-fueled material not only captures the imagination – a characteristic trait Korla Pandit's music easily achieves as well – but also the hearts of the female listeners. Korla Pandit tries the same. Does he succeed?


Hugh William's and Jimmy Kennedy's classic Red Sails In The Sunset marks the initial gateway to Korla Pandit's hypnotic treatment. In contrast to John Roland Redd's works of the 50's, his imagined hypnotist does not alienate the listener that much, which could either be seen as a boon or a flaw: ethereal pipe organs whirl through the air – business as usual –, but both the warm guitar licks and the darkly droning classic piano are surprises in the given context and ennoble the soundscape. The focus of this rendition is still on the pipe organ, but rest assured that the gentle susurrations are decidedly less warped and more rhizomatic, i.e. down to earth. As soothing as Red Sails In The Sunset is the following interpretation of Nacio Herb Brown's and Gordon Clifford's Paradise, but the euphony of the organ is actually boosted, the guitar twangs create a warmhearted mirage in which the jazzy jumpiness of the piano works marvelously well. The main melody is easily recognizable and fully fleshed out, gleaming in positively dusky colors.


While David Kent's and Ashe Underwood's Beyond The Blue is devoid of the titular color and the first ever song of Korla Pandit to launch with a piano prelude sans organs which then floats into a Three Suns-esque organ lachrymosity full of great micro-glissandos and transfiguring guitar accompaniments, Jack Fulton's, Moe Jaffe's and Nat Bronx's If You Are But A Dream repeats the formula of the former tune immediately and enchants with a golden shimmering piano melody of the utmost silky kind, with the signature organ coming into play only after about 80 seconds, then taking over the aura and turning it into an ecclesiastic one.


A second song by Hugh Williams and Jimmy Kennedy is presented next, the nocturnal Harbor Lights, interpreted here in the hypnotist's better known Space-Age style. Korla Pandit watches them from far beyond, the atmosphere is glinting and gleaming, the texture of the organ is fairy tale-like and reminds of his earlier work Latin Holiday. The synthetic sparkles and authentic piano tones create a lush vista that poeticizes the view onto the harbor. This Love Of Mine by Henry W. Sanicola, Jr. and Sol Parker finishes off side A with that aforementioned Three Suns style of playing. The organ floats wraithlike in the background, its texture being thick and… isolated, since this is a pipe organ arrangement without any other instrument involved. Aaah, the good old days two years prior of Hypnotique are invoked.


Side B launches with Jimmy Van Heusen's Polka Dots And Moonbeams, and the implicit translucency is shimmering throughout this take as well. A Balearic mélange of yearning guitar licks is underpinned by a droning organ stream whose luminescence then grows, at first reaching a veil-covered elastic swerve, then eventually shifting to a rose-tinted vibrance. The organs are a bit louder on this tune, and whether that is by accident or on purpose, their voluminosity is curiously noteworthy on this gentler album; in Korla Pandit's other works, however, it would not have the same impetus. Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust is next, and it is absolutely gorgeous. If it weren't for the pipe organ-fueled superstructure, this piano-heavy tune could well be mistaken for a Martin Denny tune (although Denny's interpretation of Stardust on his 1958 classic Forbidden Island is supercharged with mallet instruments). The tone cascades move up and down, sideways and beyond, the iridescent organ bursts boost the solemnity. A great take!


Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein II.'s Climb Every Mountain turns out to be vintage Pandit material, purely organ-ic but unnecessarily churchly. The oscillating vibrato and the wealth of warmth make this an eminently eerie tune because of its harmonious glee. Since ferocity and paradise are oftentimes congruent in Pandit's complete works, Climb Every Mountain could well be considered a selling point of this LP back in the day. Be that as it may, the cryptic The Swan is next. The liner notes do not mention the original writer, I do not recognize its tone sequences either, so it must be a tune by John Roland Redd himself. The sun-soaked guitar spirals are perfectly genteel, but the piercing organ seems to derive straight out of a pandemonium. Both ingredients are hopelessly entangled yet contrapuntal ingredients. A ferocious listening experience awaits those who dare to listen to it.


Eddie DeLange's, Irving Mills' and Will Hudson's Moon Glow is another shapeshifting critter in the mindset of the hypnotist, but a gorgeous one. Launching with a Barney Kessel-esque strumming and developing into a moonlit, permanently plinking organ phantasmagoria, the tune bursts due to the amount of joy and amicability. The sudden rise of the jazzy feeling complete with organ pedal backings and enormously coruscating melodies round the experience off and make Moon Glow the best tune of the album, even the final classic from 1944, Ned Washington's Victor Young's Stella By Starlight, cannot compete; its base frame comprises of guitar susurrations and the theremin-evoking whistles of the organ. A surprisingly thin arrangement covered in a fitting blackness.


Hypnotique sees Korla Pandit arriving in the 60's. What an unnecessary remark! Or is it? Considering the continuous and careful expansion of the instrumental pool over the course of his albums, sometimes going so far as to take the focus away from Pandit's pipe organ shtick, Hypnotique is the culmination point of this tendency. The Space-Age feeling keeps a lower profile than usual, eeriness and darker traces only occur due to the clash of their textures, not because of the willful dissonances and ferociously gloomy tone sequences which altogether traversed his former albums. It is true: Korla Pandit lightens up, getting away from his shadier constructions, which makes the shockingly intense front artwork feel all the more inappropriate, now for music-related reasons. Romance is all over this album, not coincidentally is the material strikingly similar to the hits of The Three Suns. Is this still the real fake persona of Korla Pandit anymore? Has John Roland Redd sold out his moniker? In a way, he did due to the propensity of this album being a clear cut reaction to the soundscape of the 60's rather than a unique gallimaufry with original tunes. The dreamy guitar gyrates around the triad of Polynesian scents, Manhattan flavors and California sunscapes, the piano shuttles between languorous, pompous and quirky states, and the organ naturally showcases the talented tweaks of Korla Pandit.


The material might be less exotic per se, the term tropical is nowhere to be found. Instead, the concept is awash with lights of various sources, colors and intensities, all of them point to the Space-Age genre. My favorites are the delicately distant Harbor Lights with its whitewashed aura of peacefulness and carefreeness as everything is encapsulated in ashen colors, the great Stardust with its constantly changing piano placentas and mountainous tone ladders, and finally, the craftily saturated Moon Glow where the vivacious organ and the effervescent guitar runlets try to outshine each other. Hypnotique is an album of diversity, its title leads you to the wrong track, for it is drifting in romantic waters. At the time of writing this review, it is only available in its original vinyl form, but since Pandit's archives are slowly opened to a wider public, I hope for the best, sit in the chair and let the hypnotist do the work.


Exotica Review 238: Korla Pandit – Hypnotique (1961). Originally published on Jul. 13, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.