Leo Addeo
Far Away Places






A clear-cut travelog right from the get-go, with its tracklist and front artwork pointing to paradisiac locations, Far Away Places by arranger Leo Addeo (1914–1979) promises much by offering much, or so it seems. Recorded at the Webster Hall in New York and released in 1965 on RCA Camden, the label’s inhouse arranger features a whopping amount of three medleys and a total of 16 compositions, all of them traditional and well-known to the connoisseur, the Saturday morning cartoon junkie and even the disinterested bystander (O Sole Mio anyone?). Far Away Places is still not as contingent and chaotic as one might think, for the album does have a dedicated focus that is only revealed on the backside and a closer look at the table of contents: Leo Addeo ventures to the Mediterranean with its 40+ countries, most of them based in Old Europe.


This has been done several times before and ever since, so from the outset, the record is certainly only of interest to collectors and fans of the travelog genre… after all, it is one of Exotica’s driving factors. There is just one problem: even I would shy away from calling Far Away Places an Exotica artifact. Whatever one thinks about the genre Exotica, the niches it covers, the welcome alloys and ostracized strata, Leo Addeo’s Far Away Places is different arrangement-wise and is only covered here at AmbientExotica due to its complexion of a travelog. The topic of the album makes it compatible, sure, but the arrangements are peculiar. A devoted LP it is, strikingly Mediterranean too, but there are differences sewn into the soundscape that might irritate the Exotica fan. The liner notes mention a “Mediterranean Enchantment” realized by lots of strings in the more nostalgic sections, but it is the accordions, balalaikas, the Sicilian yearning and the brass instruments that make this album kind of special… in a questionable way. And by golly, that choir! Read more about Far Away Places below.


The eponymous opener offers exactly the kind of strategic senescence I was hinting at in the opening paragraph. Originally written by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney, Far Away Places greets the listener with the humming male portion of the mixed choir, piercing accordions and mucoid balalaika strings before the arrangement opens up to include silky vibraphone tones, a more than welcome paradisiac splinter in this Mediterranean scenery. These positive vibes (!) notwithstanding, the choir is giving me shivers, as it is slow as molasses. Manos Hadjidakis’s Never On Sunday rectifies the situation a little bit, not just because it is a delicately uplifting brass-underlined piece of bucolic rusticity, but due to the silence of the ladies and gentlemen on board. Pizzicato strings, mountainous sunlit balalaika sinews and an immediate use of clinging percussion tone down the megalomania of many an interpretation and let Hadjidaki’s world-famous piece appear more earthbound and rural. A welcome alteration!


Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s Three Coins In The Fountain takes the listener to a transfigured version of Rome’s Fountain di Trevi, one that is devoid of tourists, noise and squalor, only the cheesy choir is near, spoiling the fragility with histrionic alto offerings and a muffled presentation whose reverb only make the scenery feel more outlandish, not to say ghoulish. John Scott Trotter’s instrumental on Escape To The Magic Mediterranean (1956) is very much preferred. Up next, however, comes a treat: a five-minute medley of additional Italian locations and flavors. Jimmy Kennedy and Will Grosz’s Isle Of Capri kicks off the medley with a mélange of clinging tambourines, brazen horns and muggy accordions.


It is these accordions that suddenly shift into yearning climes when a solemn version of Ernesto de CurtisCome Back To Sorrento is nigh, oscillating between partial threnody and endless lachrymosity, with Eduardo di Capua’s and Giovanni Capurro’s O Sole Mio being grafted on the same rhythm as an encore of an infamous song that has to be included at all costs. But wait, there is one more song on side A, and it is the best one of the whole album: a slower midtempo vocal version of James Kennedy’s and Nat Simon’s corker Istanbul (Not Constantinople), and here for once, the instruments find their perfect use: the tambourines and triangles coruscate like crazy, the slowness of the choir feels like a mirage, and the Sicilian strings augment the hot and humid clime further. Well done overall, all jokes aside!


Side B opens with another medley, here in two parts: the traditional Tarantella, named after the folk dance, lets the strings spiral more than it is usual in the album’s given endemics. Warbled fifes increase the feeling of watching a dance on a market place, with Luigi Denza’s Funiculi Funicula seemingly introducing cheekily acidic brass bursts before the celebratory movement comes to a halt, thus making room for Amadeu do Vale’s, José Galhardo’s and Rômulo Portela’s Lisbon Antigua, a vocal-driven swinging sunscape with cool doo-doo Space-Age chants and a half-sweeping, half-galloping beat structure. The short moments of hyperbole are a well-known ingredient of Latin music. Why the added flute is so overly joyful, however, remains a mystery.


The last medley of the album is a three-parter: John Stephan Zamecnik’s Neapolitan Nights brings the album back to a slower pace and actually surprises with a consistent and tasteful amount of vibes, accordions and moonlit strings, with Mediterranean Moonlight serving as the bass flute-carried foil to the former’s atmosphere, now with a rhythmic undercurrent; Teodoro Cottrau’s Santa Lucia closes the nocturnal string of events with orchestra bells, glockenspiel stardust and stacked accordion layers. A cohesive medley alright! Mack David’s, Marcel Louiguy’s and Édith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose then ventures into France and injects the expected infusions of accordions and rose-tinted strings, but leaves the choir out of the affair, all the while the traditional Shalom throws the listener and the choir into a Middle Eastern closing phase of alienating shifts in timbre and savorless vocal performances.


Far Away Places won’t be mixed up with Warren Barker’s A Magical Touch Of Far Away Places (1959), one of Exotica’s best symphonic albums of all times, that’s for sure! While Barker’s female choir-fueled work is located in the Far East and chock-full with wondrous instruments thanks to Hollywood star William Holden’s private collection of percussion instruments which he lent to the arranger, Leo Addeo’s travelog is far smaller and located in better known climes, at least to Occidental ears. No harm done up to this point! The Mediterranean aspect of the album is not only fulfilled, but prototypically worshipped all over the material and between the interstitial cusps and moulds. Unfortunately, Addeo’s arrangements are pestered by bog-standard ingredients, a tendency that was even noticeable in his more famous Hawaiian material.


On Far Away Places, the choir sings and yearns along, the tonality is moss-covered, but heck, the Mediterranean soul is indeed captured, and at that, the album succeeds. It is just that I am much more excited about string-heavy aural cinematographies and adventures in faux-Polynesian plastic jungles than accompaniments that are placed on Greek isles and European mountain ranges. But this is no flaw per se, and I expect today’s Hawaiians and Brazilians to equally roll their eyes when renditions of Akaka Falls or The Girl From Ipanema roll along. So here we have one of the rare albums I would consider a dud, the slick interpretation of Istanbul aside. This does not just cover my humble opinion, but probably that of many likeminded Exotica fans as well. This is one travelog to avoid as a fan of orchestral Exotica music, but again, Far Away Places has its certain qualities: you can almost see the mountains and absorb a level of conviviality. New York (where the album was recorded) isn’t too far away from the Mediterranean Sea after all. The album is available on vinyl, a reissued download version and part of many streaming providers.


Exotica Review 380: Leo Addeo – Far Away Places (1965). Originally published on Oct. 4, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.