Shadows In Latin
Before the foundation of The Beatles, there was… nothing? Anything? A dark void of emptiness? Exotica fans and Surf aficionados know better, and so do followers of the first true Rock band to reckon with: The Shadows, a British quartet formerly known as The Drifters that jams through the decades like there’s no endpoint at all. The Shadows’ principal core members are Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Brian Bennett as well as the infamous scapegrace Cliff Richard, they have entered the Top 20 so often that their presence turned into omnipresence.
No matter the band’s pompous pieces, they are admittedly no prime topic for a review at AmbientExotica… unless British orchestra leader, arranger, conductor and Shadows manager (!) Norrie Paramor (1914–1979) is involved and comes up with Shadows In Latin, released in 1965 on Columbia Records. Known for his string-heavy profusions, big band records and vastly exotic travelogs such as the majestic Jet Flight (1959), chances are that Paramor is prone to dilute and whitewash the raw power of The Shadows’ material, right? Not at all, as it turns out. While Norrie Paramor is usually known for his symphonic billows of enchantment, he goes all-in on the Rock business here, and once these characteristic traits become latinized, enchantment ensues. Hammond organs, Latin percussion, vibraphones and lots of bongos make themselves audible amidst the gyring horns and crunchy guitars. Ten of the 14 presented tracks have entered the Top 20. Shadows In Latin is one of the first official tributes to The Shadows, and its physiognomy is as wild as fellow Britain Geoff Love’s Mandingo project, yet delineates soft hues as soothing counterparts.
Clanging cowbells, guiro-accentuated Merengue rhythms, the flamboyant flares of the uplifting trumpets: enter Norrie Paramor’s transmogrification of The Shadows’ material. The opener The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt is altered in such a way that its bold harmonies are neither akin to the original, nor archetypically Latin. Smoking-hot organ zoetropes, classic drum kit fusillades and flittering staccato segues round off a Rock-heavy piece that puts Paramor’s symphonic albums to shambles. Wonderful Land continues the pace. One of the songs originally written by longtime collaborator Jerry Lordan, the guitar-and-horn mélange is emanating both awe and contemplative segues that tone down the psychedelic pericarp. Shindig is then presented in a smoking-fast big band version with a raucous trombone in its epicenter, sprinkling glockenspiel driblets and sun-dappled guitar riffs, before Little Princess floats into the scene; being the most soothing cataract of the whole album, its flute polyphony is fittingly majestic, its floralcy exuding a photometric faux-Baroqueness that is only broken by the quavering Hammond organ lava flows during the track’s apex.
From this point onwards, the album gains traction and really impresses with eminently vivid amalgamations, spawning Latinisms on every corner. Stars Fell On Stockton morphs into a tachycardia tunnel vision ablaze with guiro coils, Dixieland visions, Arizona airflows, hillbilly guitars, organ ornaments and a maraca-underlined bongo-driven rhythm aorta that pulsates, vesiculates and plinks its way into the ether. The melodies are unfortunately a tad too much over the top, but the arrangement itself is top notch, spanning various groups of instruments without sounding too gimmicky, at least not when the endemic setting is considered.
Up next is the most famous tune by The Shadows, the gargantuan Apache that is presented here in another Dixieland-inspired version. The catchy main melody is played on a Surf guitar, but both jazzy and symphonic counterparts find their way into to the diorama as well, be it eclectic horn helixes, blotchy piano spirals or orchestra bells. Nothing beats the original, and this rendition doesn’t even come close, but Norrie Paramor and his big band are aglow and lured by the hard driven steel. Side A is rounded off with Paramor’s own The Frightened City, a wonderful cesspool of simultaneous parallax layers: whether it is the dirty saxes, glacial piano shards or the ardent bongo beat, the oomph of the textural wealth is eye-opening… and very exotic indeed.
Side B continues life on the fast lane, and as if this assertion were not proof enough, Paramor’s big combo opens that side with Dance On, a tune originally written by Elaine & Valerie Murtagh and Ray Evans. And what a wondrously retrogressive piece it is. In lieu of acidic guitar licks, the mood is sun-dried, the tenor saxophone evokes a jungular feel, the midday sun dazzles the adventurer in this insouciant Kaempfert-esque rain forest of the mind. Atlantis meanwhile is supercharged with trumpet fanfares, aquatic vibraphone bubbles and organ bokehs amid the guitar granuloma, while Foot Tapper is a Samba with a grand scope. Viscid licks, bongo patterns, whistling organs and uplifting, non-aggressive brass strata make this seem more like a Polynesian polonaise than a Rock rhizome.
The adjacent Nivram resembles the hammock-friendly atmosphere of the antecedent Dance On and turns out to be a rather comical but warmhearted bongo hideout complete with Haitian fifes, carefree horn embroideries and laid-back guitar chords. A Cha Cha Cha follows in the shape of FBI, a frilly peritoneum of caproic joy, scrimshaw horns and organ fuel, with its neighbor Guitar Tango being the only rhythm-shifting and fittingly recondite piece full of besotted lust, military march drums and pointillistic plasticizers that break the occasionally dark mood. Wait for the rubicund fanfares near the end! Speaking of the end: Peace Pipe is the endpoint to Shadows In Latin, a pristine and rather crunchy bonfire lullaby with vibraphone-accompanied guitar slaps of the mountainous kinds and a drowsy clarinet. What a wonderful gimcrack sunburst to end a cajolingly energetic LP.
There’s no doubt about Shadows In Latin and its vivid energy gauge: Norrie Paramor’s LP, while largely forgotten and not even considered an Exotica classic per se, is a smoking steam machine, a rollercoaster ride through blazingly brazen renditions of Britain’s formerly finest band. The vivacity, coupled with the right doses of flamboyancy and genuine mellifluousness, make this 14-track epitome a force to reckon with… once it crosses the potential listener’s path, that is. While not a rascal per se, Shadows In Latin is at times surprisingly cheeky when the orchestra leader revs up the coolness of the guitars and boosts the temperature of the already sizzling Hammond organ. In the same way, however, the orchestra boosts that kind of jazzy scheme which was so dominant during the former decade. Cocktail vibes, saltatory piano hooks and mellow woodwinds round off an ebullient album and tame its potentially abrasive spirit. There are people out there who cannot for their lives listen to tributes to The Beatles, whether it is quasi-hilarious Techno mixes, symphonic alternatives or pan pipes affronts. Consequentially, Shadows In Latin might evoke the same levels of harrassment and withdrawal in fans of The Shadows, but rest assured that it is a greatly effervescent and cool album even 50 years later. It is available on vinyl, a remastered CD and a digital download version.
Exotica Review 453: Norrie Paramor – Shadows In Latin (1965). Originally published on Oct. 3, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.