Here at GDW HQ, a number of intriguing albums cross our desk on a regular basis (sadly, more than we can keep up with!). One such album is “Muse,” the new release from the recently formed jazz ensemble The Tiki Collective. Comprised of a sizable number of jazz vocalists and instrumentalists, the group has put together an enjoyable, if quirky, debut album featuring songs with which many of you will likely be familiar. Each song features a different vocalist (or set of vocalists, in one case) but the album never loses its coherence, thanks in part to the consistency of the instrumental parts.
The group’s stated purpose is to perform “jazz, pop, and exotica music”; I confess to familiarity with the first two genres but ignorance of the latter (a research project for another day, I think). They also take pains to emphasize their avoidance of “the type of cultural appropriation that appeared in exotica recordings of the fifties, relative to Polynesian and South Pacific island cultures.” Given this, one surprising song choice is “Mountain High, Valley Low,” originally performed by Mary Martin in the 1940s musical “Lute Song” (the plot of which takes place in China). However, Lily Frost’s performance and the instrumentation sell this wonderfully as a jazz ballad – a risky choice given that the melody could so easily become the type of tune that’s often included in musical instruction books as an (inauthentic) example of cultural diversity. If the collective’s goal is to extricate genuinely wonderful songs from their inappropriate previous shackles, here is one case where they succeed beautifully.
Other song choices are unexpected in this context but a delightful discovery nevertheless – for example, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” originally performed by Blue Oyster Cult but delivered here by Melissa Lauren and The Willows, and the (pre-Buckingham/Nicks) Fleetwood Mac tune “Hypnotized,” sung here wonderfully by Heather Luckhart. “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” (the tune of which is likely far more familiar to most of us in its English-language version) is given a glorious rendition by Irene Torres, while Avery Raquel’s own song “Dreaming” fits perfectly with the rest of the album.
If I had to describe the atmosphere engendered by listening to this album, this scene comes to mind: a dim room (with mid-century modern decor, of course), lit only by a fire, an adult beverage to hand, a sunset skyline out the window. If you’re in the mood for that level of cool, this is the album for you.
Visit The Tiki Collective’s website. (Be sure to check out the artwork on the site.)