Arthur Lyman / Bwana A – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

White Hot Stamper sound, with a big stage, Tubey Magic and correct tonality from top to bottom. There’s plenty going on at the extreme top – the rare copy that has it all!

Everywhere else the sound is tonally and timbrally Right On The Money. It’s very lively, with tight, clear bass. Listen to how open the sound is. That sound is just not to be found on popular albums anymore.

This Superb sounding stereo (we don’t bother with mono) copy of Bwana A has a lot in common with the other Bachelor Pad / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Esquivel, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Martin Denny and others too numerous (or obscure) to name.

But c’mon, nobody really buys these records for the music (although the music is thoroughly captivating). It’s all about the Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation, the wacky 3-D sound effects (of real birds and otherwise) and the heavily percussive arrangements. In all of these areas and more this record does not disappoint.

1959 Tubey Magic

If you’re an audiophile, both the sound and the music are crazy fun. If you want to demonstrate just how good 1959 All Tube Analog sound can be, this is the record that will do it!

This copy is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the sound here is PHENOMENAL. This is vintage analog at its best, so rich and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to “improve” it. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually IS a CD of this album, and youtube videos of it too, but those of us with a good turntable could care less.

Most of Lyman’s albums were recorded in the aluminum Kaiser geodesic dome auditorium on the grounds of the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel on Waikiki in Honolulu. This space provided unparalleled acoustics and a natural 3-second reverberation. His recordings also benefited from being recorded on a one-of-kind Ampex 3-track 1/2″ tape recorder designed and built by engineer (and label owner) Richard Vaughn.

All of Lyman’s albums were recorded live, without overdubbing. He recorded after midnight, to avoid the sounds of traffic and tourists, and occasionally you can hear the aluminum dome creaking as it settles in the cool night air.

The quality of these recordings became even more evident with the advent of CD reissues, when the digital mastering engineer found he didn’t have to do anything to them but transfer the original 3-track stereo masters to digital. [We of course take issue with CDs making anything more evident.]

The recordings remain state-of-the-art nearly 50 years later. [No argument there!]



Side One

Bwana A
South Pacific Moonlight
Moon Over a Ruined Castle
Waikiki Serenade
La Paloma
Otome San

Side Two

Canton Rose
Blue Sands
Vera Cruz
Pua Carnation
Colonel Bogey March


Arthur Lyman (February 2, 1932 – February 24, 2002) was an American jazz vibraphone and marimba player. His group popularized a style of faux-Polynesian music during the 1950s and 1960s which later became known as exotica. His albums became favorite stereo-effect demonstration discs during the early days of the stereophonic LP album for their elaborate and colorful percussion, deep bass and 3-dimensional recording soundstage. Lyman was known as “the King of Lounge music.”

Arthur’s father was very strict with him, each day after school locking him in a room with orders to play along to a stack of Benny Goodman records “to learn what good music is.” “I had a little toy marimba,” Lyman later recalled, “a sort of bass xylophone, and from those old 78 rpm disks I learned every note Lionel Hampton recorded with the Goodman group.”

Over the next few years he became adept at the 4-mallet style of playing which offers a greater range of chord-forming options. In fact he became good enough to turn professional at age 14 when he joined a group called the Gadabouts, playing vibes in the cool-jazz style then in vogue.

After graduating from McKinley High School in 1951, he put music on hold to work as a desk clerk at the Halekulani hotel. It was there in 1954 that he met pianist Martin Denny, who, after hearing him play, offered the 21-year old a spot in his band. Initially wary, Lyman was persuaded by the numbers: he was making $280 a month as a clerk, and Denny promised more than $100 a week.

Denny had been brought to Hawaii in January on contract by Don the Beachcomber, and stayed in Hawaii to play nightly in the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village. Denny, who had traveled widely, had collected numerous exotic instruments from all over the world and liked to use them to spice up his jazz arrangements of popular songs.

The stage of the Shell Bar was very exotic, with a little pool of water right outside the bandstand, and rocks and palm trees growing around. One night Lyman had “had a little to drink,” and when they began playing the theme from Vera Cruz, Lyman let out a few bird calls. “The next thing you know, the audience started to answer me back with all kinds of weird cries. It was great.” These bird calls became a trademark of Lyman’s sound.

When Denny’s “Quiet Village” was released on record in 1957 it became a smash hit, igniting a national mania for all things Hawaiian, including tiki idols, exotic drinks, aloha shirts, luaus, straw hats and Polynesian-themed restaurants like Trader Vic’s.

That same year, Lyman split off from Denny to form his own group, continuing in much the same style but even more flamboyant. During the peak of his popularity Lyman recorded more than 30 albums and almost 400 singles, earning three gold albums. Taboo peaked at number 6 on Billboard’s album chart and stayed on the chart for over a year, eventually selling more than two million copies.

AMG Rave Review

This is the long-playing follow-up to the multi-million selling platter Taboo (1957) featuring the seminal Arthur Lyman (vibes/marimba/guitar) ensemble. While continuing to be rooted in jazz, they conjure a jungle-like aural atmosphere throughout the dozen selections.

Lyman returned to the confines of the aluminum-based Geodesic dome — created by American industrialist, ship magnate and music lover Henry J. Kaiser — to document the proceedings. In fact, the title track “Bwana Á” — which translates as “boss man/friend” — is dedicated to Kaiser. Among its most endearing traits is the organic three-second delay that gives the sound a natural fullness via its warm, resonate reverberation.

The music reflects the seemingly infinite shades and hues of life in the isles. These are comprised of the intimate, unhurried noir phrases that waft and underscore the shimmering “South Pacific Moonlight,” as well as the exceedingly mysterious Eastern-influenced “Moon Over a Ruined Castle.” The familiar and beguiling “Waikiki Serenade” adopts its stately tune from Franz Schubert’s “Serenade.” The comparatively robust chorus is contrasted by the airy and syncopated pacing.

To a similar end, Lyman and company breathe new life into their breezy interpretation of the gentle and wistfully melodic “La Paloma.” The upbeat “Otome Sun” serves up a livelier rhythm that remains ingrained in an Asiatic musical mélange of otherwise peppy exotica. Evolving from a hypnotic bamboo flute introduction, “Canton Rose” develops into a spotlight for Chang’s singular — and at times atonal — moon harp.

The Kaiser Dome reveals its true nature on the Lyman-arranged “Blue Sands” as the congas and other drum percussion are juxtaposed against the bandleaders’ marimba with its innate aural aromatics. The Spanish-tinged “Malagueña” is an outlet for Conrad’s ivory tickling and Lyman’s all-too-infrequent performances on guitar. Also notable are the reserved contributions of Kramer’s upright bass as it provides a sturdy grounding for the heady flamenco section.

“Vera Cruz” is unusual as the bird calls and other tropical forest ambience are balanced by a moody foreboding. According to the LP’s rear jacket liner notes — the eerie feel can be attributed to the pair of de-tuned pianos that augment the opening and closing. Lyman’s musicianship — particularly when it comes to his considerable vibraphone prowess — peaks during the enchanting ballad “Pua Carnation.”

Again, it is worth reiterating the audiophile-like sonic environment as it becomes a presence unto itself. Nowhere is that as aptly demonstrated as the bluesy “Colonel Bogey’s March” — a spin-off of the familiar (and typically whistled) theme to the film Bridge on the River Kwai.”