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CD Review: Pacifica – A. J. Leonard

Posted on July 19, 2014 by Mickey Maguire

The CD begins with a musical intro with the principle voice being cello–moving into a percussion beat. It has a really nice vibe to it. The music is produced with AJ’s usual fluidity. Then, the composition slides into Bali Hai. The first time I ever heard this song was watching the movie, South Pacific. This rendition is really nothing like the original AJ makes it his own. I love the back-up harmonies.

“On A Coconut Island” features vibes– a nice touch. I love the accents. This song is so much fun, your toes will be tapping and you’ll want to grab your uke and play along. Follow that up with “Adventures In Paradise” and get mellow. This is a great follow-up track for the previous number.

The next track, “West of Panama” picks up the pace with another island beat and faster tempo. I really do love the percussion on this CD. Good job AJ!  This is one catchy tune. I love it. The piano swings; the synth is a great accent.

“Hine E Hine” was unknown to me. It kicks off with silky smooth vocals and relaxing accompaniment. “Kon Tiki” is the next tune on the list and picks up the pace again. I like the arrangement of tracks on this CD. The ear does not get tired since every number is a distinct, but, complimentary change. The next number, “Big Sur” immediately follows with a steady rhythm and great vocals.

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” might sound familiar in parts. If you haven’t guessed, it was used in the “Peanuts” cartoons (the Charlie Brown Theme). The mood changes with “The Dreamtime” with its percussion beat and unique vocals. I love the vocal arrangement. Nice!

“Yellow Bird” had me reaching for my ukulele again. What a fun little tune! “Hone A Ka Wai” follows with an almost piano run of notes. The rhythm reminds me of a waltz. “Poinciana” changes the mood completely. This is a vocal number that lends itself to the dance floor. Follow that with “Borneo” which sounds like a cross between Wicked Game and Reggae.

“Isa Lei” is a love song. It’s a song of lovers parting. A bittersweet tune with a beautiful arrangement, sometimes mournful.

“Sukiyaki” slows things down a lot. If I had to describe it in one sentence I’d say Japan meets Hawaii, until a sudden break that is a total departure from the rest of the song. This fades into “Paradise Lost” and the CD winds down with a very relaxing finish.

A. J. Leonard has been putting together some of the best CDs I have heard among ukulele performers. Add this one to your collection. I love the arrangements and the line-up was perfectly planned. Great work, A. J.

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“Exotica” is a musical genre that seeks to celebrate – in romanticized ways, rather than through a strict rendering of traditional indigenous music – the South Sea Islands, the Orient, and especially Hawaii.    

Composer/arranger Les Baxter created Exotica with his album Ritual Of The Savage while composer/arranger and musicianMartin Denny pioneered the genre in the 1950s and 60s, recording a big selling version of Baxter’s Quiet Village in the process. Denny described the musical style as "a combination of the South Pacific and the Orient... what a lot of people imagined the islands to be like...it's pure fantasy though.”
 
While musical exotica reflects the "musical impressions" of such places as standard travel destinations (the Hawaiian Islands), it also evokes the imaginary realms dreamed of by armchair island-adventurers ranging from the appealing destinations (“Shangri-La”) and romantic encounters to dangerous places inhabited by voodoo savages, etc. This provides the opportunity for much creativity on the part of the musicians, and much enjoyment for listeners.

Pacifica evolved over four years of listening, researching and lots of tinkering. It was also a good excuse to enlarge an already swelling vinyl collection. Welcome to the great adventure that is E X O T I C A