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Tim Mayer! Jazz woodwind specialist & educator from Boston, Massachusetts

June 16, 2010

WAITIKI

Waitiki 7, the septet of top-shelf musicians from a variety of backgrounds and styles led by bassist Randy Wong, is dedicated to revisiting the creative process that inspired composers and performers of the 50’s-70’s to create a genre of music which was comprised of¬†three musical roots, the Hawaiian/Polynesian, Latin, and Jazz. ¬†Exotica is music devoted to evoking images and telling stories. Currently, Exotica and Tiki culture are seeing a resurgence, which is enabling WAITIKI to grow as a group and a phenomenon.
From Wikipedia:

“Exotica is a musical genre, named after the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same title, popular during the late 1950s to mid 1960s typically with the suburban set who came of age during World War II. The musical colloquialism exotica means tropical ersatz: the non-native, pseudo experience of Oceania (Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Southeast Asia, and especially Hawaii). While the South Seas forms the core region, exotica reflects the “musical impressions” of every place from standard travel destinations to the mythical “shangri-las” dreamed by armchair safari-ers.”

Randy Wong contributes the majority of compositions, pianist Zaccai Curtis brings a deep understanding of both the Jazz and Latin traditions, as well as contributing compositions. ¬†Violinist Helen Liu, a brilliant musician active on the orchestral and chamber circuits between Boston and New York, enables the group’s sound to access the classical/orchestral side of Exotica. ¬†Drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr., who co-founded the band in 2003 with Randy, brings a wealth of talent and experience in Jazz, Hawaiian, and Latin music not only to the drum set, but vibraphone and ukelele. ¬†He is very active in Los Angeles, where he lives. ¬†Vibraphonist Jim Benoit, currently enrolled full-time at Berklee College of Music, is making waves on the Jazz scene, and the orchestral scene as well. ¬†Percussionist Lopaka Colon, based in Honolulu, HI, brings the true Exotica sound to life with his mastery of rhythm and texture, and is a master of producing bird calls using his voice, which is integral to the genre of Exotica.

Besides the evocative and exotic sounds of the music, which arises from the broad palette of rhythmic and melodic possibilities presented by drawing from each of the three main roots and combining them to get unique grooves and colors, one of the most important qualities of Exotica which likely contributed to its huge success was the conciseness of the melodies and their economy of notes to expression.  Les Baxter, Ken Darby, Martin Denny, and Robert Drasnin, all influential composers in the Exotica style, had backgrounds in orchestration and film scoring, besides being jazz musicians.  As a result of their training, their compositions were designed to evoke the intended mood to maximum effect with conciseness and precision, supported by tasteful orchestration and percussion.

I see Jazz music today losing its audience and find it deeply troubling. ¬†The old masters are leaving us, and among many younger players, there is a drive to play new things, to challenge themselves and each other rhythmically, harmonically, and melodically. ¬†There is some really exciting music being produced these days. ¬†Sadly, though, the tastes of the public are going in the other direction. ¬†Over the last 30 years, as school budgets experience downward pressure, arts education has been whittled down to next to nothing. ¬†Technology has become a substitute for talent in the fields of recording and performance. ¬†Labels have cut artist development budgets, as sales have declined. ¬†Image and marketing have become the new currency success is dealt in, while substance has taken a back seat. ¬†In short, the daunting task of dedicating one’s life to being a creative musician is made more and more difficult by the scarcity of the ever-shrinking audience.

Another aspect of Exotica which I find most appealing is that it is more than just a musical style.  It was initially part of a whole subculture, Polynesian Pop, which encompassed visual and plastic arts, namely photography, illustration, cinema, clothing and interior design; cuisine, and mixology.  Exotica was the sonic component to this amalgam of Polynesian art with mid-century kitsch.  It was everywhere in its heyday.  Movie soundtracks by Exotica composers were common.  Exotica was always heard as background music in the Hawaiian/Polynesian restaurants, which were ubiquitous all over the country.  Just about every town had one, and some of them rose to the level of being elaborate temples of the culture, featuring the food, the cocktails, elaborate interior decor, and some even had Hawaiian floor shows.

Waitiki 7 incorporates all these elements and celebrates the connection to this mid-century subculture, as evidenced by the artwork on our CD’s, and by the fact that we have an official drink menu which features drinks by well-known and published mixologist/historians such as Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Brother Cleve. ¬†A couple of these drink recipes will appear in the booklet accompanying our next release, “Adventures In Paradise,” along with a couple of appetizer recipes.

Having made the rounds in just about every Tiki festival on the calendar last year, including the W√§ssermusik Festival in Berlin and the Retro Cocktail Hour’s 500th broadcast in Lawrence, KS, Waitiki 7 is poised to reintroduce Exotica to the mainstream via the Jazz and World Music markets.

As an update, Waitiki has released the second of two CD’s as the fruit of a two-day recording session back in Feb. ’09. ¬†In those two days, which were of course long and focused, 23 complete tunes were recorded, with fixes and overdubs. ¬†The first CD, “Adventures In Paradise,” as mentioned above, was released to critical acclaim, and the band did a small tour which included venues in NYC, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Jersey City, and of course began at Ohana, THE weekend-long Tiki event for the Northeast. ¬†This next release, “New Sounds of Exotica,” features an original painting by Sam Gambino for the cover, more drink recipes, and, of course, some great Exotica.

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