Dominic Frontiere
Love Eyes






Love Eyes is the last huge original record by accordionist, arranger and composer Dominic Frontiere (born 1931) who then pursued his career as a film scorer for a variety of successful Hollywood productions. It is recorded in 1959, released in 1960 on Columbia Records and comprises of 12 original tracks which are all titled after a particular emotion or youthful state that appears in every relationship or romance once in a while, for better or worse. And this is already the whole secret and story about Love Eyes. There is no bigger plot attached to the compositions, although this minimalism does not belittle the work, but only makes it stronger. After delivering one of the best symphonic Exotica albums on Earth, 1959’s Pagan Festival, Frontiere draws from the same ingredients and abundance of ideas on Love Eyes as well.


A few exotic percussion instruments had to go, and there is unfortunately no choir on board, but this album is far from being a cheap production or lackluster appendix; the composer can rely on a huge orchestra with many harpists, string instrumentalists and brass players, and this fact shines through every composition. An LP about love may not reside in the upper regions of an Exotica fan’s agenda, but believe me, the high energy level of this work will surprise anyone who thinks of this as an Easy Listening schmaltz escapade. Even though there are mellifluous ballads on board, the Space-Age strings let the listener submerge into transcendental isles of bliss. The melodies are catchy yet varied, the sound quality is superb, and the different segues or vignettes always serve the very purpose the song title evokes. Read more about a strikingly exotic-spacey work which puts many a genuine Exotica record to shambles. Enter the lilac land of love.


If an Exotica fan listens to Pagan Festival and Love Eyes back to back – a likely endeavor as both albums have been released on one CD in 2002 – he or she would probably not notice that Love Eyes started playing already, for the fulminant anacrusis of the opener Jealous bursts at the seams, starts in medias res, runs on all cylinders already and comprises of a super-frantic but delightful bongo and conga shrapnel which underlines majestic brass blasts and plinking cowbell glitters. Reminiscent of Frontiere’s Festival which opened the album Pagan Festival, Jealous is a similarly polymorphous critter with several segues, stages and tempo shifts, hence astutely linking back to the very nature of jealousy with a wink. From timpani cavalcades that roll like thunder, over a quiet and portentously dark string fanfare, to a kitschy yet wondrously working crescendo that culminates in a sin-forgiving climax which literally opens the shady curtain and reveals a rose-tinted phantasmagoria of exculpation and togetherness, this piece is a blast. The strings become more vibrant, gentle piano notes spiral next to a romantic lead fiddle, and once the excitingly energetic brass stabs crash into the scenery, Jealous has almost come full circle; I say almost because the breakneck speed is never reached again, neither on this tune nor the whole album. Jealous is a superb tune and the best possible way to start the LP, for Frontiere elaborates many themes and timbres within four minutes that are not necessarily smoochy.


To make things more exciting, the composer dispenses with any kind of smooch in the following Sultry as well. This theme is the album’s longest piece of almost four and a half minutes, comprising of that synergetic Crime Jazz and femme fatale intertwinement which is so well known. Tumbling trombones, loungey vibraphone accents, strings in high tone regions and the atmosphere of cautious coolness that only waits to explode in heavier brass attacks are united here. Very cinematic yet schlepping itself forward in a strange way, Sultry reminds of the cigarette-smoking black widow that approaches the sitting private eye with lascivious steps. Since the tempo is comparably downbeat, the afterglow of the melodramatic strings and horns fathoms out the blackness in the distance, the heavy cymbal eruptions underscore the wanton atmosphere further. This is the heaviest brass theme on the album, murky and dubious. While Innocent provides the strongest possible contrast to Sultry and is a coherently stabilized string ballad supercharged with pointillistic flutes, exhilarating legato airflows, careful harp glissandos and traces of whitewashed horns, Fickle unchains lots of jots and droplets in its polka dot structure and features sudden gleeful protuberances and flashing peaks which are then followed by rhythm shifts and cheeky clarinet injections.


Wistful continues the string-heavy path of Innocent without ever reaching its smarminess, nor injecting a truly wistful state of sorrow. Instead, a fairy tale-like dreamscape is invoked with gentle and silkened trombones, bass flutes and clarinets in front of a reduced string background. The composition opens up ever so slightly with glockenspiels and more tones in major, but the delicate feeling of designed insubstantiality is maintained throughout this great arrangement. Joyous closes side A with an unintended nod to Singing In The Rain in terms of its insouciant carefreeness. The main melody is realized via flute helixes, whereas glockenspiel protrusions and a sanguine piano solo harmoniously accentuate the laid-back and less jumpy appearance. A song like a cotton candy store: sugar-sweet and exciting, with pauses to gaze in awe.


Side B starts with another blast named Teen-Age, and while it does not reach the genial frenzy-and-snugness dichotomy of the opener Jealous, it is still a song about jagged sybaritism and uncontrollable emotions. A cheeky Bossa Nova groove made of dark six-note brass vesicles is further ameliorated by a woodpecker-oid marimba staccato, superb harp cascades and wonkily elasticized Space-Age strings par excellence. A lead trumpet rounds off the steadily widened arrangement. Today’s teenagers will mock the antediluvian physiognomy, but you know the saying, those were the days. Notwithstanding this possibility, Teen-Age is less introverted than optimistic. The final show tune-like proportions at the end have to be witnessed to be believed. A strong take for the Space-Age generation. Sensuous is the counterpoint and similar to Innocent and Wistful in that its enchanting strings wash over the listener, with not one shadow or nuisance in sight. The balance between strings and brass instruments is well realized, this piece creates a billowed fluxion that is superbly spacey and eminently luminescent. The downwards spiraling strings near the end are top notch!


Whereas the retrogressive Beatnik is Dominic Frontiere’s attempt to carve out the youthful slackery via mellow brass globs, good-natured tones and a tempo-boosted Pagan (!) flute intersection which ultimately returns to the hammock-friendly sunburst scenery as if anything has happened at all, Lonely shares another characteristic trait or two with Wistful in that it is a diffident, contemplative and withdrawn piece of solemnity full of harp tones, yearning flutes and – I kid you not – tone sequences from Frontiere’s gorgeous Moon Goddess off Pagan Festival! Say what you will, but even if Lonely does not stand out of the material presented on Love Eyes, its streamlined, mellow approach is very languorous and a great counterpoint to the more eclectic pieces. Up next is the penultimate Childish, and this is Dominic Frontiere’s worst composition ever. Its uplifting spirit, entangled streams of strings and hi-hat galore are noteworthy, but it then draws from many children’s songs or folklore legends such as Frère Jacques and destroys the unique summer blend of mauve-tinged hues and military march-like turmoils.


What did not work on Paul Mark’s Children’s Medley which japanized a string of Occidental classics for children on his album East To West (1961) turns out to be a similar affront here. The finale, however, does work marvelously and is one of the very best and exotic tunes of this album that could have appeared on Pagan Festival in a similar fashion without a question. Sophisticated closes the album in an intricate and surprisingly elaborate way. It does not reach the many different states and movements of the opener Jealous, but Frontiere nonetheless manages to drop multitudinous shapes and magic surfaces onto the diorama. Highly melodious and memorable string washes waft and gyrate around glockenspiel glitz and exotic clangs. Quieter flute scenes and ecstatic maraca-accentuated bursts of joy are enormously captivating. The tempo does not change throughout the runtime, but the different textures and unconcern make this a proper lovestoned finale which ends with Space-Age brass outbursts and that fairy tale-evoking pizzicato stature. 


Dominic Frontiere’s final album Love Eyes which is not specifically written for a Hollywood flick or glossy documentation is a wonderful and great addition to his opus exoticum Pagan Festival. If both albums had not been coupled on one CD in 2002, chances are that Exotica aficionados would have shoved aside my efforts of drawing connections between both works and linking them to each other in terms of their exoticism. Sure, Love Eyes is based on the romantic themes of the times, and yes, there are plenty of opportunities to connect specific timbres or instrumentations to certain film scenes from the 40’s till 60’s one may have encountered previously. But Love Eyes is surprisingly cliché-free during most of its runtime; auroral string washes and mellow brass infusions are a given, true, but more often than not, things become fulminant and electrifying, both figuratively and literally: the high tempo flurry that greets the listener in Jealous is eminently exotic due to its bongos and congas, the dirtier saxophones on Sultry announce a femme fatale who steps into the life of an innocent man, whereas Sophisticated is by the very nature of its title just that, but enthralls with purified melodies.


Fans of Space-Age strings meanwhile will be more than happy with Wistful, Lonely and Innocent whose effulgence is elysian and vibrant. While not a clear cut Exotica album per se, the textural base, the wide pool of instruments and the transforming structures make this work much more compatible with the specific needs of a vintage Exotica lover than a desultory Easy Listening visitor. Frontiere’s Love Eyes is so special because it only shares bits and pieces from Easy Listening, Exotica, Space-Age, Crime Jazz and big band show tunes but does not showcase this tendency transparently. As mentioned before, Love Eyes is available on vinyl, on CD in tandem with Pagan Festival as well as a download version on Amazon MP3, iTunes etc. where it is available for a very fair price. If there is only one love-themed symphonic work to grace your exotic collection, let it be Dominic Frontiere’s Love Eyes!


Exotica Review 257: Dominic Frontiere – Love Eyes (1960). Originally published on Sep. 7, 2013 at