Don Cunningham Quartet
Something For Everyone
Luv N Haight
on Cunningham’s record arrives with the sort of history that sells itself. The multi-instrumentalist and avowed Les Baxter aficionado had a resume that included sessions with Esquivel and three and a half years touring the world with Johnny Mathis. Fresh from the Mathis gig, in 1965 he put together a quartet for a gig at the St. Louis Playboy Club. Instead of playing the sort of cocktail jazz that one would usually expect to hear at such an establishment, they spiked the music with exotica, calypso, and the then newly-emergent bossa nova sound. They gained just enough of a following for them to press 500 copies of an LP to sell from the bandstand. The group split up in 1968, and that was almost the end of the story. However, “Tabu,” a track from that LP, became a cult hit with jazz-dance DJs over 30 years later. Finally, after DJs and mere mortals alike prayed in vain to the goddesses of vinyl to send them a copy of the now impossibly-rare album, reissue specialists Luv N’Haight have bestowed mercy upon us all by issuing it on CD.
Joined by a piano trio, Don Cunningham plays a truly impressive arsenal of percussion instruments, takes an occasional vocal, and also blows sax. Something For Everyone strives to live up to its title by dipping into many different styles of music, but is at its best on the two tracks of straight-up exotica: “Tabu” and “Quiet Village.” Both tracks are up-tempo numbers that also show the influence of the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s funky jazz, but with the crucial addition of vibes. “Quiet Village” is a Les Baxter composition that became the exotica standard after Martin Denny scored a national hit with his cover version. And while Cunningham’s “Quiet Village” retains the birdcalls and melodic trade-offs between piano and vibes that made Denny’s version so memorable, he also adds his own stamp through the increase of tempo and rhythmic variations, making the song closer to a cha-cha than the languid pace of the Denny version. “Tabu,” the track that earned the enthusiasm of those DJs, shifts from an atmospheric intro and outro for flute and boobams to a funky main theme for vibes to a solo for timbales while the pianist quotes Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” underneath.
The other tracks aren’t quite as impressive, but are still enjoyable. Something For Everyone actually opens with its weakest track-“Angelina”, an enthusiastic calypso number that gives Cunningham a chance to play the steel drums. “I’m Your Slave” is a dramatic film-noir ballad with an S&M theme (think I’m kidding? Check out these lyrics: “Keep me bound, keep me chained/’Till I’m almost insane/Don’t set me free/I long to be your slave”!). Cunningham’s vocal here recalls his old boss, Johnny Mathis. He also demonstrates the influence of Harry Belafonte during a smooth version of Leadbelly’s song “Sylvie.”
The album also features two bossa nova numbers, both taken from Luis Bonfa’s score to the classic film Black Orpheus. “Manha De Carnival” gives Cunningham a chance to play some Stan Getz-style sax lines, but I prefer “Samba De Orpheu”. It begins with the bass stating the melody and features a shifting arrangement that allows everyone a chance to solo.
Something For Everyone gives a fascinating glimpse of what a working exotica band actually sounded like. This isn’t the place to start if you’re just getting into exotica (check out Esquivel’s best-of Space Age Bachelor Pad Music or some of Capitol’s Ultra Lounge CDs instead), but it is a major find for confirmed exotica buffs.
Reviewed by: Jim Storch
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01