Ferrante & Teicher





When they were done with tweaking, ameliorating and twisting their Steinway pianos, the famous duo of pianists and longtime friends Arthur Ferrante (1921–2009) and Louis Teicher (1924–2008) decided to include large orchestras in their releases, though whether that was really their decision or eeever so gently proposed to them by mercurial marketing managers is up for debate. Works like Soundproof (1955) and Blast Off (1958) are two of the greatest and at the same time eeriest examples of truly dedicated Space-Age music that does not rely on the use of outlandish strings or quavering theremins. The textural range of the piano, however, is outsourced as soon as the duo earns its fair share of success. Bands and orchestras begin to widen the possibilities while at the same time limiting the free flow, interplay and vivid imaginations of the duo.


These albums are still beloved by Easy Listening fans, and one particular artifact is also recognized – or, well, at least tolerated – by Exotica fans: Pianos in Paradise (1962), featuring F & T with conductor Nick Perito in a rain forest of true Exotica sparks. Exodus is another of these works, though the conductor is not mentioned in the liner notes. Released in 1968 on Hallmark Recordsand sporting ten different tracks, the twenty fingers are busy to push the keys to their limits… in an Easy Listening context, that is. Don’t expect wildly weird material. Exodus sits on the opposite side of the spectrum and is at times a tad remote and doleful, but there are many contrapuntal elements to dampen this feeling, among them two beautiful takes on Exotica gold standards. Here is a closer look at all ten tracks, the welcome submissions as well as shortcomings of the arrangements.


Pompous horns, clashing cymbals, a majestic anacrusis before the genteel piano segue unfolds: Ernest Gold’s Exodus is the expected solemn landscape in Ferrante & Teicher’s hands. Dun-colored paths are exchanged with exciting counterparts, but a certain gravitas can never be defeated. Heck, even Arthur Lyman’s version on The Colorful Percussions (1962) where Exodus gains the spot as the opener too, does not let loose of the cinematic pizzazz. More of a sunburst than a cloudless sky, Art Ferrante and Louis Teicher therefore let the orchestra build up the seminal atmosphere. Eddie Heywood’s and Norman Gimbel’s Canadian Sunset is prone to repeat the serration of recondite colors with seriousness, but the pianists come into play big time on this rendition! Accompanied by whirling strings and short brass bursts, the two experts transmogrify the soothing technicolor flares of this classic with the help of rustic staccato keys that remind of an atmosphere in a Honky Tonk bar. One is not advised to love this approach per se… but it is a creative outburst in the given endemics, the duo runs on all cylinders here, they mock the Easy Listening corset as good they can.


Having encountered thousands of iterations during its existence, Autumn Leaves by Jacques Prévert and Joseph Kosma is an old buddy even for the dedicated Exotica listener who exchanges string orchestras for that beloved quartet sound anytime. Ferrante & Teicher obviously shy away from an overly intimate reduction texture-wise. The signature element of this version is undoubtedly the amalgamation of spiraling glissando keys which glitter downwards like aqueous arabesques, creating a wonderfully spacy effect that is still humane and organic. This playful plasticizer even outshines the increasing poignancy that is emitted by the strings. A lightweight contraposition follows in the shape of Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered. Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s partially smoochy capsule of romance is presented in a conmon way, though it’s not bog-standard. Mellow double bass pillars, susurrant piano veils and the lilac languor of the glockenspiel-underlined strings create a warmly euphonious feeling, with side A’s finale, Cole Porter’s Begin The Beguine, seeing the pianists annihilate this feeling with a carefully – and willfully – humpy performance that lets the flavor of jazz cellars and bars in; since the strings are mellow peritoneums, they perfectly ennoble the joyous vivacity.


Exotica fans, are you still ‘ere? If that’s the case, it is time to play side B which most definitely is the more exotic side, and to prove just that, it launches with Nicholas Roubanis’ eternal folklore classic that came to be in 1941, harboring Greek and Middle Eastern illuminants all at once: Misirlou – or alternatively Miserlou – is offered here in the form of a mirage. The strings are perfectly capable of inducing that archetypical mysterious feeling, tambourines, sizzling cymbals and bongos amplify the aura further. The pianists freely explore the saffron vista with a wide array of iridescent blotches and helicoidal movements, making this a great orchestral, albeit not hypercatchy version that is a very early cornerstone of the Exotica genre’s flamboyant universe. Up next: Carl Sigman’s and Charles Danvers’Till, another rectilineal ballad for lovers. The strings are whirling around the pianists, glacial prongs become entangled with viscid chords. This would have been a great finale, as it is laid-back, pompous in a good way, and occasionally withdrawn into its own magenta world. The actual finale, though, is much better, more about it in a moment.


While Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto is firmly attached to the previous composition and surprisingly mellow, cajoling its way to the hearts via high-rise strings, piano-based dew drops and the right amount of horn helixes in the background, Francis Craig’s and Kermit Goell’s Near You scythes an organ barrel-like fairground rift through the album’s intrinsic universe. Ligneous rhythm pianos, oompa patches and tongue-in-cheek chord progressions make this a strange piece overall. The finale then deserves one’s attention again: Les Baxter’s Quiet Village is nigh. Suddenly, the use of bongos is resurrected, the moist pianos gleam, the swinging glissando is refreshing, all melodies and principal harmonies are intact. The horns and strings provide a great unison, making this an offer that respects the original and its short but colorful history of manifold takes and interpretations. Best of all is the paradisiac notion that brings back the verdured diorama of the duo’s Exotica LP Pianos In Paradise. The use of bongos in this last instance is a tad clichéd, fine, but it’s one of those beneficial clichés that amend to the already warm hue.


Exodus drives its aural cinematography ever further, I believe that this is the safest thing to attest in terms of the ten tracks when the day is done. The material is well-chosen, and I don’t just refer to the Exotica gems Misirlou and Quiet Village, but also the unexpected material that turns out to be tidbit-worthy, for instance the rural Warsaw Concerto. Within these boundaries, Ferrante & Teicher know to enchant with two notable forms of arrangements: on the one hand, there are intendedly clumsy and undoubtedly rustic visions such as Near You and Begin The Beguine with their jazzy core being disguised as shoddy material prone to be used in a suburban bar. On the other hand, there is the effort to use the bongos on another bunch of songs, namely Quiet Village and Misirlou, and the driving factor for their appearance is obvious alright, but no less effective and welcome.


The arrangements are altogether interesting for another reason: they make sure that the pianists and orchestra are allies of equal value, with no texture or surface reigning over the other. This, however, makes the piano-based vignettes all the more questionable. It is as if the pianists begged for the spotlight, only to then fill it with orderly, streamlined cataracts that are nowhere near the weirdly twisted Space-Age material the duo provided in the second half of the 50’s. Luckily, this impression vaporizes over the course of the album, and so I can recommend the album to fans of F & T who probably possess this work already. Exotica fans who are understandably interested in that certain spirit can safely check out Exodus too. It is not just available in its vinyl incarnation, but has been digitally reissued in 2010, so by all means, cherry-pick as you please.


Exotica Review 489: Ferrante & Teicher – Exodus (1968). Originally published on Nov. 22, 2017 at AmbientExotica.com.