Walter Wanderley






There is a reason why Brazil’s #1 organist Walter Wanderley (1932–1986) is so beloved in Exotica circles, and this has everything to do with his ubiquitously colorful organ fusillades whose staccato stratosphere is ablaze with floralcy, polyfoil tone sequences and shimmering color voids. The tempo of his compositions regularly resides in upper regions. He brings the Brazilian concept of fast-paced Samba rhythms to North American ears via Batucada (1967) and is all the more hailed for his horticultural sapphire Rain Forest (1966), the pinnacle of his career, especially so since all the musicians are really up to the tempo and flamboyant rhizomes of the jungle.


If I were to tell anyone that Wanderley has much more albums to consider and discover, nobody would raise even a brow. The tendency that Wanderley offers “more of the same” all the time can, however, be elbowed out of the way, for there is one album where he tones the galactic iridescence down, resulting in a viscoelasticity of soothingness. Against all odds, Kee-Ka-Roo is said work! Recorded in October 1967 and released on Verve Records, the twelve songs feature the talent of bassist Jose Marino, drummer Dom Um Romao, flutist Jerome Richardson, guitarist John Pizzarelli, percussionist Bobby Rosengarden, trumpeter Alfonso De Paulaas well as Walter Wanderley himself on the organ and electric piano. The material is well-known most of the time, and the band spices the r(o)oster with unique compositions as well. Here’s a detailed look at the surprisingly enthralling doldrums that is Kee-Ka-Roo.


Welcome to the Amazonas, or to be more precise, João Donato‘s Amazonas where flutist Jerome Richardson’s signature instrument functions as the meandering fluidity whose micro-protrusions are emitted by Walter Wanderley’s splashy organ punctilio. The atmosphere is laid-back, more skin to a cloudy day than a sunburst, but nonetheless uplifting. Wanderley’s own Kee-Ka-Roo follows; being the title track, its prominence must not be underestimated. Unfortunately, the comic relief portions are overwhelming, consisting of Moog-underlined brass tricklets. The caixha with its owl-like sounds and the sizzling-hot organ-based lava streams are the only tasty cataracts.


While Vinícius de Moraes’ and Baden Powell’s polyrhythmic Canto Do Ossanha boosts the lachrymose nostalgia ever-further via maraca-accompanied Honky Tonk piano doldrums which thankfully leads to a freshly vigorous tempo sequence, the Brazilian organist’s own concoction Take A Chance With Me evokes that lift muzak atmosphere that Wanderley so adores. Electric piano sparks and softly argentine shakers radiate a vitreous soothingness that sounds admittedly cheap, but is oh so catchy at the end of the day. Sid Ramin’s sunset-tinted Music To Watch Girls By is the contrastive corker, with Alfonso De Paula’s silky trumpet shuttling between an organ bokeh and John Pizzarelli whitewashed guitar kicks before Roberto Menescal’s Errinho Atoa is the super-glaucous vestibule to flute flumes, erudite euphoria and the overall superb interim endpoint.


Kenny Barron‘s Samboa kicks off side B, and it is wise to simply absorb the change of pace texture-wise: coruscating cowbells, disphanous triangles, mixed choirs, jungle fifes and polyphonic flutes that sound like train signals, the technicolor thiazide has something in store for every Exotica fan… as does Wanderley’s The Bobo which enchants with another dose of John Pizzarelli aureate sun-kissed guitar globs and the organist’s laid-back sepia-toned hammock compatibility. Even the flute isn’t shrill but mellifluous and tame. A potential rift opens up soon: Ray Evans’, Jay Livingston’s and Henry Mancini‘s Wait Until Dark is transmogrified. Genius or madness? Marge Dodson provides the vocals of this blockbuster interpretation, making the recondite fragility less burdensome through her smoky voice that truly belongs to a lounge singer.


As if to kick the listener yet again, another surprise is about to hit home: Mikis TheodorakisMenino Das Laranjas is prone to add Greekness to the scenery, right? Not exactly, as Wanderley and his men alter the bouzoukis and turn them into verdured dark-green alluvial soils made of flutes, organs and glitzy percussion. And so does Wanderley’s Sebato Sera, a similarly viridian veil of jungular exoticism. Easygoing, contemplative and loungey to the maximum, the mild-mannered interplay never crosses the threshold to boredom; the boosted cymbals and shakers might have something to do with this prevention. The maestro’s own Sensuous finishes the album with ballad made of electric piano icicles whose partially spiky edges protrude the peritoneum of quasi-nothingness. This is Wanderley at his most minimal!


Kee-Ka-Roo cries the rooster, but this is no funny album full of witty remarks. The advertising campaign coupled with the front artwork leave much to be desired, I have to admit, but listeners interested in Walter Wanderley’s back catalog are in for an unexpected treat – Wanderley wasn’t Brazil’s organist #1 for nothing! In my reviews, I am constantly relating moods and extramusical tendencies to the songs themselves while crying wolf when I proclaim at the same time that this is all about the music. In the case of Kee-Ka-Roo, the music is all the more important when the time comes to consider this album. It differs in its depiction of the Brazilian lifestyle because the organist decides to tone the exhilarance down.


Wanderley does evoke colors aplenty, but this is no technicolor trip. The saturation is strikingly reduced, and one might be quick to mistake the lack in vibrance for melancholy. But the opposite is true: the reduction in glaring hues and incandescence helps the bandleader and his men to interpolate the drowsy state of paradise. When compared to his masterpiece Rain Forest and the subsequent array of albums, it becomes clear that Kee-Ka-Roo annihilates its own title and goes for a sepia-toned amalgamation. It would be so easy for the organist to play down everyone involved, but both the textures and eclecticism of the keyed instruments are narrowed down. This is either a letdown or a wonderful change of pace. It depends on the listener, time and circumstances. The dulcet Walter Wanderley is not for everyone. The album, however, is, as is has been reissued on CD, as as download and can be found on streaming services.


Exotica Review 464: Walter Wanderley – Kee-Ka-Roo (1968). Originally published on Feb. 14, 2016 at