Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Versatile Henry Mancini

Composer: Henry Mancini
Title: The Versatile Henry Mancini and His Orchestra
Year: 1959
In both the exotica genre and in the Mancini catalog, The Versatile Henry Mancini stands by itself, an early masterpiece, the beauty of which does not wane even after hundreds of listens.  Despite the implication made by the "and His Orchestra" part of the title, this album features no strings, horns or woodwinds and instead employs a small, gentle ensemble of electric organ, accordion, electric bass, electric guitar, wordless vocals and occasional, scattered triangles, bells and faint tambourine.

Though it is decidedly in the realm of exotica, you'll hear no birdcalls or driving hand percussion as are invariably present in Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman's work.  Its emphasis on electric instruments and reeds (accordion and harmonica) sets it further apart, perhaps inviting wandering daydreams more so than imaginations of the tropical and the tribal.  To hear the warm and wet tones of electric organ, guitar and bass in absence of percussion emphasizes the dreamy potential of these instruments as they combine delicately to paint moonlit seaside scenes.

These are immaculate, tender treatments of Exotica standards alongside two original compositions, highlighting Mancini's incredible arranging ability, particularly his sense of instrumentation and timbre.  Though Mancini's soundtrack work that followed undoubtedly continued to exercise his keen use of orchestration and voice, this is the only major work in which he confined himself to such a small ensemble and one might reasonably wish he had revisited this realm from time to time.