Record labels (thankfully) continue digging through the vaults and reissuing old recordings on CD, usually remastered and very well-packaged. This album by the late, great Father Of Exotica is a very recent release (May 22, 2012) but remains faithful to the original LP issued on the Capitol label some five decades prior. It's also fully loaded with a great selection of bonus material (a good practice in the art and science … and economics … of CD reissues)
For those of you who haven't heard this album, it is, in some ways, very different than many of Baxter's other compositions. For one thing, this album stands out to me as being the most impressionistic (of the Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel persuasion) and classically-inspired effort I, myself, have ever heard by the man. Sure, it’s well-known that he was heavily influenced by modern classical composers (the Impressionists and Igor Stravinsky, most notably), but most of his work veered toward more jazzy arrangement and orchestration and was, more or less, still pop music. Jewels Of The Sea, on the other hand, oozes about as many distinctively classical qualities as popular music in the mid-20th century would have allowed, and possibly even then some. Don’t take that the wrong way, I don’t mean it as negative criticism. I've set aside enough time to play this entire CD on several different occasions and it still effectively quenches my hunger for Baxter, Exotica, and Space Age Bachelor Pad music alike. The fact that it’s a little more challenging just makes it all the more entertaining.
Another thing that stands out to me about this album is that it’s part of a small niche within the Exotica niche itself -- "Sea Exotica." It’s a theme that’s not often portrayed in music from the Space Age, and most Exotica aficionados would probably jump straight to Leo Diamond's Skin Diver Suite as being the standout “Sea Exotica” record. For all intents and purposes, they would also be correct. However, while Skin Diver Suite also stands out in the crucial areas of strange cover art and even stranger instrumentation, Jewels Of The Sea sits quietly to the side, relying largely upon an audience who can appreciate its many musical nuances. A side note that’s worth mentioning is that, if you think about it, marine themes fit into Exotica as well as jungle themes or even outer space themes. Being deep below the sea was and is just as foreign (and, in turn, exotic) as being deep in the jungle or 20 million miles from Earth.
This reissue, as I've mentioned, also contains a goodie-bag of bonus material spanning Baxter's career. Selections from Ports Of Pleasure (1957), The Sacred Idol (1960) and Tamboo! (1954) make up more than half of this CD. Total, it adds up to 27 tracks / 1.3 hours of first-class Baxter and more bang for your buck, so to speak.
For your information, él [sic] Records has a pretty good track record in reissuing old LPs and their discography contains an eclectic mix of musical treasures. Additional Baxter LPs (Space Escapade, The Fruit Of Dreams, and African Jazz + Jungle Jazz), Ferrante & Teicher (Soundproof + Soundblast) and Russ Garcia (Sounds In The Night), as well as plenty of other rarities were released by él and, while some record labels skimp on resources during the production of their reissues, él has made it a habit of delivering a high-quality product (in terms of fidelity, packaging, liner notes and, of course, selection of music).
All in all, this album is geared more toward experienced listeners of Exotica and Space Age Pop, but I think most of these listeners would find a way to appreciate what Baxter had going on here.