The Command All-Stars
Persuasive Percussion 3






There are certainly people out there who deny the necessity of follow-up records such as Martin Denny's Exotica Volume III (1959), Arthur Lyman's Taboo 2 (1960) and Morton Gould's More Jungle Drums (1964), and if these exotic artifacts have to face such reservations, audiophile arranger and violinist Enoch Light (1905–1978) has to suffer these waves of doubt as well, metaphorically speaking. Enter Persuasive Percussion Volume 3, released in 1960 on Light’s own Command Records. The first two installments – see my reviews here and there – featured Jazz guitarist Terry Snyder (1916–1963) at the helm of a studio band. Now it is up to The Command All-Stars all by themselves to present 12 Jazz and Exotica classics in a drum-oriented fashion.


An ensemble of 17 skilled artists, among them guitarists Tony Mottola and Al Cassamenti, percussionists Artie Marotti and Willie Rodriguez, pianist Moe Wechsler, accordionist Dominic Cortese, trumpeter Mel Davis and many other brass players and multi-instrumentalists, The Command All-Stars walk the fine line of high-quality material for audiophiles, harmonious melodies and drum escapades. The Persuasive Percussion series got a bit long in the tooth eventually, so why bother with the third volume, if at all? Because that sentence turns out to be a factoid. True, there is only so much you can do with the self-imposed concept of creating a record for audiophiles and spicing it with delicate drums and sophisticated percussion, but Enoch Light and his Command All-Stars have done it time and again nevertheless. So here is, for better or worse, an in-depth refiew of number three.


The first impression, as delivered by any opener imaginable, is always of importance. Since the Persuasive Percussion series is some sort of concept album – even though Prog Rock standards shall not be applied in this regard –, it needs to justify its title. And it does so flawlessly on Al Stillman’s and Robert Allen’s Moments To Remember which launches with gently beaten bongos, sizzling maracas and vitreous-glassy gongs. After these admittedly gimmicky solos, trumpeter Bernie Glow leads the segue forward to Tony Mottola’s aureate guitar licks. Despite the oscillation between Jazz piano vignettes, big band protrusions and crystalline caverns full of mallet instruments, the opener manages to feel complete by introducing most of the partaking veterans. James Van Heusen’s and Sammy Cahn’s All The Way is less based on solos than an interplay between the instrumentalists, enchanting with glacial piano droplets, xylophone glissandos and delicately reverberated bongos. The brass players and pianist Moe Wechsler remain in the spotlight, as does bassist Bob Haggart who connects the bursts and pauses with his mellowly low frequencies.


Alexander Borodin’s following Theme From Polovetzian Dances is the standout though: plinking triangles, Romeo Penque’s shawm-like oboes and the marsh-like caravan structure make this a clear-cut Exotica piece with Dominic Cortese’s accordion spiraling gently amid the enchanting vibraphone glints. Ervin Drake’s, Hans Lengsfelder’s and Juan Tizol’s Perdido is a Latinized Exotica classic to begin with, and so the Command All-Stars try to outshine Marty Gold’s arrangement off Skin Tight (1960). One thing is for sure: the jungle fifes and hollow afterglow of the drums on Enoch Light’s supervised record are much more life-like. Once Mottola’s seconds-long dreamy guitar mirage is added, Perdido sees another stylistic counterpoint. While Harold Arlen’s and Johnny Mercer’s Come Rain Or Come Shine is transformed into a conga-fueled femme fatale theme complete with sizzling cymbals, downwards-spiraling pianos and that sleazy twilight atmosphere, Johnny Noble’s sheet music of Hawaiian War Chant is put to the test at the end of side A, spawning cavalcades of classic and exotic drums and interactions thereof before rounding things off with the famously sun-dappled melody on the brass instruments. Even caixhas make it to the percussion roster.


Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer are needed on side B again as their classic One For My Baby is exotified by laid-back bongo blebs and the impression of a simmering heatwave. Hammock-friendly rhythm guitars, towering brass aureoles and comblike cymbal structures cannot deceive the listener that the revolting styles and timbres clash constantly and make this more of an unbalanced patchwork than a stabilized arrangement. With Amy Wood-Forde-Finden’s Kashmiri Song, the album turns once more to exotic climes and thus improves its quality via a prelude of crisp guiros, tap-dancing snares and sizzling shakers. Above all things, however, is the omission of the brass section; in lieu of the horns, the flutes and woodwinds are allowed to shine, creating a tropical haze that is hammock-friendly and slightly enigmatic, but most of all benign, making Kashmiri Song a top choice in dreamy playlists with a distinguished, well-groomed jungle vibe without any asphalt nearby.


While Einar Aaron Swan’s When Your Lover Has Gone returns to a shuffle-heavy drum placenta with blotchy melody interstices and less brass instruments than expected, Bingo Bango Bongo Baby is the real treat of the album, as it is written by Enoch Light and long-time collaborator and friend Lew Davies. The brass instruments return, but so do the jungle flutes and the warped decay and transcendental reverberation of the bongos. It is not a striking song per se, but unique and more keen on its textures than the melodies. While Vernon Duke’s Autumn In New York is taken out of its vernal context and put into a seething rain forest of raspy guiros, gorgeously balmy horn helixes and stupefying accordion washes, Rube Bloom’s and Ted Koehler’s finale Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me continues to nurture the impression that side B is the real deal, enthralling with a wonderful interdependency between the shakers and drums. Pianist Wechsler is prominently featured yet again, this time between the golden encapsulation processes of guitarists Tony Mottola and Al Cassamenti. A tad sleazy but all the more slick, Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me and its cautiously uplifting vibe give the listener a good feeling that lasts when the vinyl stopped spinning.


Persuasive Percussion Volume 3 offers more of the same without the appearance of Terry Snyder who helmed the first two installments, and that is all one needs to know, no in-depth review necessary. Duh! But since I have done exactly that, I could also take my time to delineate the sophisticated approach concerning this volume. It is true that if you like one installment of the Persuasive Percussion series, you better own all of them for aesthetic reasons or collector’s purposes, but Persuasive Percussion Volume 3 at least harbors particularly noteworthy Exotica tidbits. The driving factor besides the technical prowess is the big band craftsmanship, an el dorado of show tunes and other related peculiarities, but it is amazing – albeit mildly so – what Afro-Cuban drums can do to a Crime Jazz theme.


And once there are real Exotica corkers presented such as Perdido and Kashmiri Song or the Hapa Haole gold standard Hawaiian War Chant, things improve even more. There is no need to fetch this album for just these songs, nor is it an eminently collectible item due to Light’s and Davies’ genuine Bingo Bango Bongo Baby, but fans who want a perfect blending of Exotica and big band settings should give this record a try. Its ornamentation is based on pianos, guitars, mallet instruments and flutes, and it is exactly these devices which open the scenario up for vintage Exotica fans and Jazz lovers. Persuasive Percussion Volume 3 is not available on CD or digital music stores/streaming websites, but its gatefold physiognomy turns up regularly on eBay, GEMM and cohorts. 


Exotica Review 349: Command All-Stars – Persuasive Percussion Volume 3 (1960). Originally published on Jun. 14, 2014 at