Walter Wanderley






A clever wordplay or pun is the first good start for a record to peak one’s interest. Actually no, it surely has to be the front artwork, right? Whatever is true or comes first, Brazil’s number one organist Walter Wanderley (1932–1986) sure hits the spot with the soft sea-green mélange that graces his ten-track album Organ-Ized. Released in 1964 on the Philips label which back then specialized in the distribution of Brazilian artists on site, the album is not mentioned often enough, even though it is a central part of Wanderley’s discography, with a few of its songs appearing in different arrangements years later. So what you are going to receive here has to be a sure thing, a well-beloved sparkler that is mentioned time and again as an instant classic that orbits near the alloyed epicenter of Space-Age and Exotica, right? I wish I could confirm this train of thought. Things, however, are different regarding the collective reception of the album.


The principal problem with Organ-Ized is its dubious physiognomy, musically speaking. While it is a fully carved-out record played by a quintet, awash with horns, pianos, splendid percussion sections, the occasional vibraphone, golden guitar licks as well as Wanderley’s one-of-a-kind organ in the center, the release nonetheless feels quite a bit cheap, but only due to the extrinsic factors that have nothing to do with the music itself! In fact, the Philips label fails to mention the band members. This is a common omission by budget labels and big publishing houses alike, but here the lack of information is all the more painful. It could well be that the principal band is on board that appeared on Wanderley's subsequent Exotica corkers such as the benthic-tropical masterpiece Rain Forest (1966), the versatile vortex From Rio With Love (1966) or the technicolor tunnel vision Batucada (1967), but I’m not skilled enough a sleuth to find out. In any case, Organ-Ized features a band – be it incidental session musicians or famous veterans – that is up for the challenge and delivers a gorgeous album… and just wait until you reach side B with its experimental edge (when compared to Easy listening in general, that is). But first, let’s start the review with side A.


Many people might have the impression of Walter Wanderley’s albums altogether forming a rainbow of verdured summer Samba material, but the organist and his companions even rely on songs that are literally eponymous: Samba De Verao translates to Summer Samba alright. The better known version of this hit by Norman Gimbel and Marcos & Paulo Valle appears two years later on Wanderley’s best known Exotica artifact Rain Forest, but the arrangement on Organ-Ized is superb as well, be it the silkened organ bubbles, the saxophone-playing musician whose spirals waft through the viscid air, or the gorgeous closing climbs of the two-note chords. This is euphony with a scent of show tune extravaganza!


The Valle Bros. are considered once more, as the following Batucada Surgiu is a flute-fueled sunset-colored dance in the smoking-fast Batucada tradition. The organ emanates lilac contours, the silvery percussion and the adjacent timbale drums meanwhile augment the chromaticity of this sleazy-slick hybrid. While Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Vivo Sonhando is an estival guitar-focused capsule of insouciance complete with unexpectedly plinking maraca shakers and percussion droplets, a two-track movement by Robert Menescal and Ronaldo Boscoli is rounding off side A: Mar, Amar is an echoey Honky Tonk-esque critter with piano icicles, warmer organ blotches and saxophone rhizomes, with Voce shuffling along with its maraca cascades, jungle flutes, raspy guiros and softly blooming aurora.


Side B kicks off with Edo Lobo’s and Ruy Guerra’s Reza (Lai Ladaia) which seems to come from a completely different recording session or era! Pastoral prayers and silkened sermons augment the ecclesiastic erethism, but thankfully, Walter Wanderley’s signature instrument remains the same and is not replaced by a pipe organ, and so the iridescent vivacity of its textures melts well with the shimmering guitar chords and cavernous sax serration. Evaldo Gouveia’s and Jair Amorim’s Garota Moderna then delineates the rather dun-colored interstices with creepy Gothic drones, sunny organ counterparts and semi-dolorous guitar chords. This melancholy has always been part of many a Wanderley treatment, but is usually much better hidden. This is still quirky enough, especially due to the saltatory organ oscillation. The vocals round off the bond of togetherness.


Whereas Menina Flor by Luiz Bonfá and Maria Toledo depicts a nocturnal/twilight carefreeness in a sweetly shuttling piano-accentuated vibraphone (!) valley, Opiniao by Zé Keti enchants with its cowbell coruscation, dried guitar chords, piano allure and soothing brass meltdown, before Deus Brasileiro by the Valle Bros. finishes the album with a rustic polka-oid coil of ruralism as if it were played in a Portuguese bordega. Side B harbors the more experimental songs after all.


Organ-Ized is one of Walter Wanderley’s albums that remains under the radar, possibly due to it being released on the Philips label which is not overly fond of reissuing the material, let alone licensing it to interested parties or selling it to soon-to-be rightsholders. The ten songs, however, are gorgeous, twisted and densely layered. Everything is on board: Wanderley’s translucent organ is the core, there are saxophones as well as guitar and piano washes aplenty, and let me not forget the scintillating percussionists with their cowbells, guiros and triangles. The Space-Age artwork is not a ploy at all, even though this is still Latin material at the end of the day.


However, the hyperpolished surface of Wanderley’s organ and the textural range he is able to distill are fantastic in their own right. It is then even better that the Brazilian organist is not in the epicenter throughout the record. While the organ is instantly recognizable, it also hides behind the various textures, making room for the other musicians to shine. This is especially true on side B with its experimental edge in moods, arrangements and interplay. Organ-Ized is a gem that waits to be reissued digitally, without the need to listen to granulous vinyl rips, but for the time being, this or the original vinyl release are the only options one can consider.


Exotica Review 431: Walter Wanderley – Organ-Ized (1964). Originally published on May 9, 2015 at