Emil Richards
New Time Element






The list is getting longer and might probably never stop: New Time Element by a band that would later be known as the Microtonal Blues Band, led by mallet instrumentalist Emil Richards (born 1932), is yet another record that is strongly exotic, but not often considered by fans of the genre, and nobody can blame them. The title, while very astute and descriptive – more about this in a moment –, is neither as paradisiac as Richards’ follow-up Journey To Bliss (1968), nor does it sport certain markers or terms such as exotic, percussion, jungle, let alone the good old-fashioned exclamation mark. But I am telling you right now that, all omissions of genre gold standards aside, New Time Element, released in 1967 on Universal City Records, is a glaring Exotica LP.


After delivering the strangest and peculiar experimental Third Stream album Stones (1966), Richards and his men deliver euphony aplenty, but with a twist: all performed songs, with two originals on board, are not only distributed on a Night Side (aka Side A) and its Day Side counterpart, no, the material is also veiled in a new corset, an exciting rhythm. The songs are literally played in strange times, from 5/4 over 11/8 to 15/8. What sounds convoluted and labyrinthine on paper turns into magic! The marimba melodies, pre-Disco strings and conga beats encapsulate the listener in thermal heat, uplifting tunes are followed by unexpectedly beatless pieces of, er, Ambient Exotica. Melodies are always in the center, eminently recognizable, thus withstanding the time experiments and rotatory textures as delivered by the band, a band whose personnel is embodied by bandleader, percussionist and mallet instrumentalist Emil Richards himself, conguero and bongo player Chino Valdes, classic drummer Joe Porcaro, guitarist John Morell, pianist Dave MacKay as well as bassist Chuck Domanico. Here is a closer look at a poignantly lost Exotica faux-classic.


The number one reason I am usually all too willed to count many an album to the Exotica genre is presented in the very first second of the opener Georgy Girl. First envisioned by Jim Dale and Tom Springfield, Emil Richard’s inaugural artifact of the Night Side is graced by Chino Valdes’ laid-back bongo aorta in 4/4 time, with the mallet instrumentalist’s own marimba rainfall boosting the – as I tend to say – jungular feeling ever-further. The glockenspiel, meanwhile, brings down the stars to the masses. John Morell’s dark yet mellow guitar licks scythe through a violin-interspersed thicket, making Georgy Girl a strangely multifaceted piece of chamber music complete with exotic rhizomes. The song’s twist is the sudden change from 4/4 to 5/4 which is barely noticeable to the interested layman and only audible via a soft wonkiness. The melodies remain intact, and so Emil Richard’s band introduces the time-related element in the softest possible way. Neal Hefti’s Girl Talk from the movie Harlow is not yet keen on avantgarde mannerisms either and hence remains highly accessible. Realized in 11/8 time (which mimics a Waltz-like structure) and illumined by polyphonous marimba crystals, Joe Percaro’s classic drum kit and a progressive multiplexion of increasing vivacity, Hefti’s trademark insouciance is cherished and well orchestrated.


Tony Hatch’s Call Me is another corker, even though Petula Clark is not on board, nor is Walter Wanderley‘s hyper-frantic organ phantasmagoria (off 1966’s Rain Forest) the blueprint. Instead, Richards’ Microtonal Blues Band creates an eminently vitreous-glassy kaleidoscope of pointillistic vibraphones in tandem with clever faux-afterglows of the marimba kind. Dave MacKay’s piano bubbles and Joe Porcaro’s clinging tambourine round off the impression of being caught in a turbulent zoetrope that is shaken, not stirred. As usual, the writer’s melody remains fully recognizable and in the center. It is pianist Dave MacKay’s own Here that follows next, a soothing mirage of pre-Disco strings, mucoid vibraphone-piano gallimaufries and the omission of any rhythmic particle except for the occasional triangle spark and a softly shuffling maraca. A very dreamy concoction!


The Theme From “The Sand Pebbles” (And We Were Lovers) by Jerry Goldsmith and Leslie Bricusse remains in these enchanting climes, but spawns many a pentatonic droplet via the wind chimes, Chinese gongs and adjacent shell percussion, with the mauve-tinted strings adding the romantic touch to this soothorama. Garry Bonner’s and Alan Gordon’s Happy Together rounds off side A… in 15/8 time! Chintzy today but brand-new back in 1967, it is the tambourines and vivid drum aorta next to the vibraphone-marimba mélange that make this a – I have to say it – fantastic rendition coated in Rock arcana and Chuck Domanico’s deep bass runlets. Add orchestra chimes and helical trumpets to the mix, and elation shall be all yours. The night side is now over and the day awaits the listener.


And this day features six remarkable encounters as well. Starting with Bobby Hebb‘s Sunny, the flavor of the day is brought to life by Dave MacKay who replaces his piano with an organ and grinds the heck out of its interstices. The soon-to-be Microtonal Blues Band greets avantgarde with a smile, unleashing off-key segments with equally dissonant guitar tones and warped vibe irregularities. Emil Richards’ own Hot Fudge Sunday, presented in 5/4 time, is a tad more accessible, if only by means of its crystalline vibraphone coppices, the hibernal flavor of the orchestra bells and the raspy-aqueous synergy of the guiro-like metronome. A saltatory Rock belter!


While Jay Thompson’s Jimmy is a helical trip transformed into music as polyhedric kalimba airflows meet elastic timpani, whistling bandmembers and Saturday morning cartoon sounds such as car horns and several fifes, Hava Nagilah is a predecessor of the band’s aforementioned LP Journey To Bliss, as this traditional tune features a heat wave qua its harpsichord, the dun-colored cymbalum and earth-shaking drums. The speed increases. Naturally. This is your father’s interpretation of Exotica. Paul Desmond’s 1959 tune Take Five is, coincidentally or not, the only tune in a 4/4 style, comprising of Dub-like guitar chords, liquid marimba vesicles and rattling cymbal protrusions. Mightily catchy, and the lead-in to Blues For Hari, originally written by Tom Scott. Spacey whistles, a savage bongo-and-conga rain forest and frantically jumping orchestra bells round off the Day Side as expected: with wit, charm… and craziness.


New Time Element tumbles and twitches, gyres and diffuses, it is a melting pot shot through multiple galaxies while retaining a perfectly earthbound gravity. One can sense that Emil Richards and his men are not only at their respective peak, they also try to really come up with a concept that is both complex and easy to grasp. The Night Side and Day Side are not as different and diverse as they may seem concept-wise, but the sextet’s tendency of loosening the nuts and bolts in order to give in to that good-natured Third Stream megalomania over the course of side B is a great idea. 1966’s Stones is to blame which, after all, wore the slogan New Sound Element on its front artwork. So New Time Element is no arbitrary album title, even though it does sound like a weird endeavor indeed. The Night Side remains soothing and tame, the Day Side is surprisingly vivid, whirling like a glacial tornado over a christmas market or fairground.


Fine, the album sits in-between Stones and Journey To Bliss, and side B shows this better than anything, but what else is there for fans? Basically, followers of the band are a special clientele, for Richards’ marimba exoticism may be the column of all tracks, but the girdling tohubohu is often over the top. Is this really what the listener wants after thousands of Easy Listening-filled hours? Highly unlikely. So one is advised to already contain the will to wade through Cool Jazz patterns, Third stream rivulets and well-known Pop and Rock cascades. It is the latter case which makes this album so valuable even to those listeners who do not even know the Exotica genre: classics such as Call Me and Havah Nagilah appear in their well-known yet transfigured gestalt. The melodic core is always sheltered and maintained which is a splendid base to feed listeners with adjuvants of weirdness. Rinse, increase the dose, repeat. Side A is for vintage Exotica listeners and mellow fellows, side B for Jazz aficionados and scientists, and the whole album available on vinyl and in a remastered digital shape on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and streaming websites.


Exotica Review 382: Emil Richards – New Time Element (1967). Originally published on Oct. 18, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.