Percy Faith
Adventure In The Sun






Arranger and composer Percy Faith (1908–1976) finally enters the realms of Exotica with Adventure In The Sun, released in 1957 on Columbia Records, a few months prior to his collection of Cuban compositions called Malagueña. If you compare these albums side by side, Adventure In The Sun seems to be the more valuable one of the two, if only for the fact that all 12 songs are written by Faith himself. However, this is just the beginning: the instrumental pool is largely based on the ususal strings, horns and flutes, but there are positively quirky and unexpected elements gathered on this album that add much to the soundscape. Despite being a symphonic work, there is a certain esprit and humbleness woven into the work which reminds of the combos of former street musicians such as Ernesto Lecuona and his Lecuona Boys.


But there is an even bigger advantage: the percussion is decidedly tropical and exotic on many takes, relying on bongos, congas and maracas. In addition, there is a magnificently aquatic nylon string guitar and even a harpsichord involved. While the latter causes much despair in Henry Mancini's Music Of Hawaii (1966) and delight in said luminary's Combo! (1960), its Space-Age aura is a work of genius on Faith's album and adds a lot to both the quality side and variety. The album is clearly rooted in Easy Listening lands, no complex melody ever occurs, making Adventure In The Sun a formidably digestible, easily accessible LP of the oftentimes corny kind. However, the textures and their balance work really well. The percussion scheme turns out to be a boon. Only rarely are there typically Latin-flavored tonalities. Enough of these technicalities, the first stop of the 12 is actually a luring one.


Tropical Merengue, now that's what I call a colorful track title, but one can never be too sure about the exoticism in terms of the naming convention, for it is the arrangement that counts, not the verdure of the words. In terms of an exotic outlook, Faith does half of it right. The prominent conga and bongo thicket replaces the commonplace timpani and kettle drums which leave a great impression in the opener that is unfortunately mostly amiss in the subsequent material. The dreamy and not all too encapsulating string washes waft gently in the background, always close to the non-exotic but welcome highlight, namely the shrapnel of the ever-gleaming horn eruptions. Some of them are vivaciously Latin without any bile, the reverb phase of their decay adds plasticity and depth to the depicted jungle, but there are incidents where the horns sound cheesy and nocturnal rather than brightly lit. These incidents notwithstanding, Tropical Merengue is a joyful ditty whose percussion scheme is, at least for me, the very ingredient that elevates it from the competition and puts it nearer to Xavier Cugat's craftsmanship.


The following Bluebell then degrades the listening experience with its pointillistic-saccharine xylophone globs, mellifluous flute spirals and sugar-coated strings. The melody is catchy in a bad way, for it is kitschy and forces itself into the ear, there is no escaping. Simulating a solemn street parade, this one destroys any illusion of being in a jungle. Avoid.


Carmelita then unleashes the first instance of a love-lost, sizzling hot Tango complete with sanguine staccato horns, the archetypically sweeping rhythm and an overall horn-related dusky opaqueness, but once the legato strings enter the scenery and absorb most of the spotlight, the passionate tone sequences in minor move slowly to more rose-tinted realms, aptly transfiguring the female physiognomy of Señorita Carmelita. Up next is The Fiddling Bullfighter which, you've guessed it, draws from melodramatic, enormously fiery maelstroms full of screeching string coils, clinging tambourines and sunset-tinged serpentine horn helixes which underpin the danger and excitement of the titular hero. This composition has that certain Granada feel to it, that is the pompousness and danger-facing bravery. Since it features enough orange tones in major, the depicted incident has a happy end.


Supreme Easy Listening, zero Exotica. Until Eleanora appears. It is more than fitting to place The Fiddling Bullfighter in-between two ladies. Especially the latter is beautiful thanks to her dualistic complexion of deliciously hollow Exotica conga rhythms and Space-Age harpsichords whose pandemonium-esque acidity boosts the joy in juxtaposition to the jolly brass fanfares. I rarely worship the harpsichord in exotic records, but here it means everything and causes a memorable composition, with the following Tambora bursting at the seams thanks to its jocular Mexican trumpet-fueled polyphony, the wooden percussion placenta complete with bongos and drums as well as a slight breeze of two or three monotonously whirling violins. Awash with light, wondrously glowing.


Side B is keen on exclamation marks, tropical percussion and spacey harpsichords. Hey José! is a maximally enchanting shanty with cowbells, vivified strings, maracas, ukulele streams and 70's laser sounds… in 1957! No matter how Percy Faith and his orchestra created them – most likely via a nylon string guitar –, their warped twang turns out to be the ultimate weapon of galactic glee. Bahama Lullaby is yet another tune that collides with these Space-Age characteristics. Instead of tropical island sounds, this downbeat mirage merges schmaltzy strings with a conveniently strolling harpsichord glitz, paradisal two-note themes on the flute far away in the backdrop and shedloads of melodies. A baroque aura clashes with both the contemporary present and a futuristic scenario. Dreamy, enchanting, totally weird, a top pick!


While the auspiciously titled Bubbling Over injects a Bert Kaempfert-like conviviality regarding its string washes with loudly plinking tambourines but otherwise remains in lackluster territories, Italiano! unchains a synergy of Rimini harpsichords with a coral-colored rhythm guitar and strangely yet wonderfully poeticizes the way of life in the country of Italy. Even the honey-sweet pizzicato and legato strings do not destroy the over-the-top phantasmagoria, but only add to its bewitching dimensions. 50's galore! The green-colored Tropic Holiday then relies on the very same formula and moulds an ether of dichotomously shady-quirky strings with gyrating harpsichord tones into the ears of the listener, with The Bandit drawing from punchy drums, bamboo rods and Mexican brass instruments, altogether of the joyful kind without any trace of danger or cautionary allusions. The scheme of the drums is particularly repetitive, but very hypnotic. The Bandit ends the LP with a positively clichéd four-tone horn flourish which emanates the blooming power of the evening sun for the last time.


A Latin LP at its heart with brassy tissue structures and an outer rim consisting of tropical percussion, Percy Faith knows how to temporarily annihilate the South American skin of Adventure In The Sun by creating a delightfully multifaceted critter whose morphogenesis is as reliant on that Space-Age harpsichord as on pure Exotica remainders à la Pagan flutes, bongos and congas, with the two latter naturally deriving from Latin music, therefore closing the circle. The typical devotion found in Tangos is only ever injected on (or, ahem, in?) Carmelita, and the torero-suggesting majestic melodrama is mostly reduced to The Fiddling Bullfighter, but even these two tunes are unique and cleverly arranged compositions. The strings are kind of there, strongly audible, comprising lots of layers, but curiously tame. They neither inherit the aura of Hollywood nor swallow the listener with their flamboyant impetus. The main attractions are the various brass instruments, at least from the outside.


Exotica fans, however, will love the percussion and its hall-related attributes on many of the tracks. In addition, there is the spacey harpsichord which even manages to make the Italian schmaltzscape of Italiano! bearable, a tune I would have previously assigned to Geoff Love's string combo Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains due to its timbre. Adventure In The Sun is no particular revelation, not by far, but it shows the arranging knowledge of Percy Faith and his skill to fathom out different ideas while at the same time balancing the coherence and harmony in his offerings. Fans of Bob Florence's Bongos / Reeds / Brass (1960), Xavier Cugat's brass-supported Exotica album Viva Cugat! (1961) as well as Si Zentner and Martin Denny's Exotica Suite (1962) should check this gem out. It has been out of print for a long time, but was reissued on CD in 2004 and is also available as a download version on Amazon MP3, iTunes etc., so by all means, take a listen if you like brass instruments in your music but are not all too keen on that Latin spirit. The latter keeps a low profile here.


Exotica Review 341: Percy Faith – Adventure In The Sun (1957). Originally published on May 17, 2014 at