Gene Rains: Far Away Lands – The Exotic Music of Gene Rains

GeneRains_FarAwayLandsAn exotica original finally gets his digital due

Like his exotica compatriot Arthur Lyman, Gene Rains was a vibraphonist with a jazz background. And like Lyman, and Lyman’s former band leader Martin Denny, Rains held a tenure at the Hawaiian Village Hotel’s famed Shell Bar. Unlike Lyman and Denny, however, Rains recording career was rather short – three original albums in all – and began a few years after Denny’s 1957 breakthrough with Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village” and Lyman’s return to exotica with 1958’s Taboo. Rains’ three albums for Decca didn’t gain the public renown that greeted Denny and Lyman’s releases, and until this eighteen-track sampler, his music remained available only on pricey, highly sought-after original releases.

Rains’ albums followed the same template as Denny’s and Lyman’s, combining Hawaiian folk melodies with standards, Broadway and film tunes and newly written island songs. Rains’ jazz quartet of vibes, piano, bass and world percussion were deft mixologists, and Decca’s engineers captured their sound in crisp, audiophile-quality recordings. The arrangements are alternately lush, romantic and dramatic, though even with vibraphone at their core, they don’t often swing as freely as Lyman’s work. Pianists Paul Conrad and Bryon Peterson add dramatic arpeggios and deep low notes, and bassist Archie Grant (who’d join Arthur Lyman’s group in the mid-60s) also adds flute, and several tunes are garnished with exotica’s requisite bird and animal calls.

Many of this compilation’s titles will be familiar to those who’ve collected Denny’s and Lyman’s albums, but Rains and his quartet put their own spin on the arrangements. Ernesto Lecuona’s “Jungle Drums,” which had been a hit for Artie Shaw in the late ’30s, opens with a dramatic introduction before leaning more heavily on the song’s Latin rhythm than Martin Denny’s vocal chorus arrangement. And “Caravan” (one of the three pillars of Exotica) is really more jazz than exotica, with the vibes, piano and bass each getting a solo spotlight. This is a superb collection, filled with lively playing and original nuances, and the song list includes exotica classics, jazz and popular standards, and a few inventive adaptations.

The collection’s 16-page booklet includes full-panel reproductions of all three original albums’ front and back covers, liner notes by Randy Poe, and a front-cover photo of noted mermaid, Marina; the disc is screened with a reproduction of Decca’s rainbow label. Due to a loss of the original masters, this set was sourced from vinyl, but the transfers, though not flawless, speak to the long-lived high fidelity of early ’60s pressings. It’s too bad that Real Gone didn’t go the full monty and reissue the three original albums in full; still, some Gene Rains is a whole lot better than no Gene Rains, and this disc belongs in the collection of every exotica lover. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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