Notes and Editorial Reviews
To put it with what may well be deceptive simplicity, the rather modest purpose of this album is to achieve a kind of stereophonic travelogue - an intention, by the way. that is announced at the outset by the tom-toms in Ernesto Lecuona's
Jungle Drums. For all its seeming unpretentiousness, though, this is a rather slipperier aim than one might think. There is the fact, for instance, that - except for Rapsodia Negra, which was never recorded before - none of the selections are exactly surprises or innovations. Thus, Morton Gould - the noted American composer-conductor who has distinguished himself in his serious compositions as well as in his numerous arrangements and original popular works - had to demonstrate that familiarity need not necessarily breed contempt. He accomplished this by approaching the material as if it had never been heard before, utilizing it, so to speak, as a kicking- off place from which to summon up the peculiar enchantment of the exotic and tropical.
Take, for example,
Hawaiian War Chant, which was a glory of the Tommy Dorsey band in the forties. Fundamentally it is a kind of musical poster art - a bravura piece that had been reduced to mere bombast by too many overformularized performances. Now, under Morton Gould's revitalizing ministrations, it suddenly emerges as something arrestingly different - something with the texture of a steel guitar. It scarcely need be said that this would not have been possible prior to the advent of high fidelity recording and reproduction. The vividness of Villa-Lobos'
Little Train, a delightfully whimsical, cross-rhythmed little portrait, also benefits prodigiously from the technical advances of recent years. This whole album, indeed, is as revealing of Gould's resourcefulness as it is of the various composers' creative inspiration. The celebrated
Ritual Fire Dance, for example, certainly is immeasurably enhanced by the fact that Gould chose to interpret it with a hi-fi ear.
Swamp Fire, on the other hand, owes its effectiveness in this compendium to the fact that Gould chose, in his own words, "to make the flames spread." As a result, a fairly modest little number becomes a virtuoso, razzle-dazzle performance. In the case of his own
Tropical, however, he was content merely to emphasize its airy lyrical beauty. With Duke Ellington's
Caravan, on still another hand, he adopted a highly stylized approach in order to heighten the fantasy and imagery.
Obviously, the common denominator of the 15 performances in "Jungle Drums" is percussive. Every selection, whether it be sprightly, stately or swirling, is underlined by strong rhythmic accents. But the percussion in this album - which ranges from a Harlem resident's interpretation of an alien land in
Caravan to Falla's evocation of the primitive in the
Ritual Fire Dance; from the lush potpourri by Lecuona to Mr. Gould's own diffident
Tropical - is neither effete nor intellectualized, unlike the drumming in modern jazz. Basically, indeed, it betrays nothing more complicated than an urge to provide an irresistible beat. And that, after all, is the way the drums were meant to be played. And that, too, is why "Jungle Drums" seems so uncontrived and singularly appropriate a title for the album.
Notes by GEORGE FRAZIER
original liner notes