Leo Addeo






Calypso And Other Island Favorites is a semi-strictly Caribbean ten-track album by arranger and songwriter Leo Addeo (1914–1979), released in 1964 on the RCA Camden label of which Addeo is the inhouse arranger at the time of its release. Whenever people – even diehard Exotica listeners – hear the Calypso genre mentioned somewhere, the first idea that usually springs to mind has to do with steel drums, or to be more correct, steel pans. The flamboyant color range of these magical instruments is mind-blowing when one witnesses an actual drummer of such pans. How can such paradisiac tones come out of these devices?


Whatever the physical peculiarities behind this phenomenon are, rest assured that these prime examples of Trinidadian and Tobagonian culture are on board here as well… but with a twist: instead of higher tone pitches and ornamental maelstroms, Addeo’s orchestra uses these devices very carefully and only plays them in deeper regions where their otherwise glaring iridescence is replaced by a deeply saturated faux moisture. Akin to a grove or translucent grotto, their pensive coruscation only grows when played in this particular way. The other and more important instruments are alto flutes and multiple horns. Oscillating between island glee, Latinisms and show tune evocations à la Hollywood, Calypso is no authentic take on the genre, as is the case with virtually all true-bred Exotica records, but a riverbed drawing from many genres in order to either transform the classic Calypso material or to calypsofy Latin compositions. Prospects are undoubtedly looking great, but alas, Leo Addeo has not delivered a veritable masterpiece here. The reasons, as usual, are given below.


Turquoise-tinted steel pans greet the listener on the opener Marianne, an interpretation of Terry Gilkyson’s Calypso classic from 1956. The steel pans are not used in a stereotypical manner but rather function as rhythmic devices. Their seven-tone beat physiognomy accentuates the acoustic guitar backings and the polyphonous brass melody. Pointillistic flute washes and bucolic kettle drums round off the erupting horns. Everything is awash with sunlight and is – it has to be said – terribly syrupy, but Leo Addeo weaves show tune-like segues into the aural island which augment the big band feeling. Norman Span‘s Man Smart (Woman Smarter) is a much better take, the arranger decidedly widens the instrumental pool: staggering congas, sizzling-hot car horn organ fabrics and cowbells ameliorate the fertile soil of a tune made famous by Harry Belafonte. The fissured structure boosts the warmth as the reverberation of the instruments fades into the mellow background.


While Harry ThomasMatilda, Matilda forms a great base for the multilayered euphony of the horns to shine, with the flutes expanding on the solemn insouciance, Conrad Eugene Mauge, Jr.‘s Zombie Jamboree is an especially carefree Calypso with steel pan backdrops, kettle drums and bubbling tubas. The lilac-colored organ coils and tropical shakers round off this short piece. Lord BurgessJamaica Farewell finishes side A in an easygoing yet multiplexed fashion. Acoustic guitars are in the spotlight, silkened flute-marimba couples are entangled in an interplay, the brass players keep it quiet until the end where their horns explode for a short time. A great rendition and definite highlight.


Side B sees the return of Lord Burgess, this time it is the Banana Boat Song which he co-wrote with William Attaway. Almost mystical and aquatic steel pans underline the bongo-accompanied guiro-kindled staccato-legato hybrid. Two flutes and joyfully gleaming trumpets create a celebratory aura. Leo Addeo shows his skills as an arranger, the plasticity of this piece is great, the steel pans deliciously hollow and lush. The luminary’s own Island Limbo follows, a brass extravaganza with cowbell interludes and the main melody played on warbled flutes. The admixed bongo vesicles almost interpolate the Latin mood; Gone Native (1957) by The New York Jazz Quartet comes to mind.


Duke Ellington’s Brown Skin Gal places the focus on high flute dots and entanglements of an acoustic guitar in dialog with the warm Hammond organ, and with Addeo erecting the liveliest Bossa Nova rhythm of them all, whereas Jeri Sullivan’s, Morey Amsterdam’s and Paul Baron’s Rum And Coca-Cola provides a sneaky-sleazy ode to the hammock with effulgent organs, laissez-faire brass structures which imply shrugged shoulders and a conga shrubbery which hopefully cures the threatening hangover that is opaquely thematized. The outro comes in the shape of Rafael Muñoz’s Tropical Merengue (also known as Anamecer Tropical), which launches with stereotypical and melodramatic brass stabs, cheeky flute tittles plus a five-note motif. Leo Addeo’s Calypso albums ends on a Latin note.


Ten songs, one mood. Calypso And Other Island Favorites is sunny and perpetually cloudless. Only rarely is the presented material all too schmaltzy. Despite the comparably large selection of instruments, it is the woodwinds and brass devices which carry each and every song; even the mandatory steel pans are only of secondary importance. Their textural and tonal range, however, is notable and tastefully different. Instead of jumpy pings and whirling pulsars, they are played in deeper tone regions and hence embody a kind of good-natured mystique which is rarely heard in Exotica material. Their appearance in only five out of ten songs can indeed be bemoaned, but also embraced, since their omission also lessens the impression of listening to a stereotyped record. The same can be said about the two-time fleeting visits of the croaking guiro. These otherwise strictly Latin instruments work well in the sun-dappled Calypso material and inject another layer of variety.


All good intentions and magnificent arrangements aside, Leo Addeo’s island trip is not all too exciting. The adamant restriction of the tonal range and style make it a rather tiresome album, with the listener’s attention span decreasing as the album progresses. I am not begging for a rougher edge or jazzy excursions, but one or two slower, more minimal tunes that make heavier use of the steel pans would have been appreciated, regardless of the self-imposed title of the LP. But this is nit-picking on my side which, as usual, comes decades too late. Exotica fans who occasionally venture into the microtonal worlds of Haiti or Trinidad and Tobago should check Leo Addeo’s idea of a good Calypso out, but should be aware that coherence is congruent to blandness. The album is available on LP, CD and as a download version. The genre is viewed through rose-tinted Hollywood glasses, but hey, it is this very mimicry that makes the album an Exotica artifact!


Exotica Review 285: Leo Addeo – Calypso (1964). Originally published on Nov. 23, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.