Arthur Lyman / Taboo: The Exotic Sounds of Arthur Lyman – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

This out-of-this-world WHITE HOT Stamper side two of Taboo blew our minds with its uncanny three-dimensional recreation of space. It’s so transparent and boundless you’ll feel like you are standing right on the stage with these guys and their birds! 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 can do it, maybe better than any other.

Naturally it 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 many others. But c’mon, nobody really buys these records for the music (although the music is thoroughly enchanting). 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 side two of this copy excelled beyond all of our expectations.

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. If you like the sound of vibes and unusual percussion instruments, you will have a hard time finding a more magical recording of any of them.

The sound here is the very definition of Tubey Magic. 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.

Even Wikipedia Can Hear It!

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 Two

A+++, and the winner of our shootout! Here the sound is every bit as rich, sweet and Tubey as any side we have every played, yet clear and open like no other! What a combination. This side is the perfect way to demo your stereo for anyone who thinks audio recording technology has improved in the last thirty years.

This one has more going on at the extreme top than any copy we played. It’s very lively, with tight, clear bass. Listen to how open the drum sound is. That sound is just not to be found on popular albums anymore.

The animal noises are shockingly real on this side, but what really sold us on this copy is how enjoyable the arrangements are when you can hear them so clearly. These guys make good music!

Side One

A+ to A++, better than Hot Stamper sound, with a big stage, Tubey Magic and correct tonality from top to bottom.

Not as transparent or spacious as side two, with a slight Old School crudity to the sound, it was still pretty darn magical!

Condition Alert

Mint Minus Minus to EX++ is how this copy plays, and it has some marks that play (how many copies of this album can you find that don’t?) so this one will probably not do for those of you looking for quiet vinyl. Please click on the Sonic Grade tab above to read more about this copy’s surfaces.

All Music Guide 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 with Ethel Azama (vocals), Paul Conrad (piano), Chew Hoon Chang (moon harp), Alan Soares (piano/celeste), John Kramer (bass/bamboo flute), and Harold Chang (percussion).

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.


Side One

Ringo Oiwake
Sea Breeze
China Clipper

Side Two

Sim Sim
Katsumi Love Theme
Akaka Falls
Dahil Sayo
Hilo 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 Lyman was born on the island of Oahu in the U.S. territory of Hawaii, on 2 February 1932. He was the youngest of eight children of a Hawaiian mother and a father of Hawaiian, French, Belgian and Chinese extraction. When Arthur’s father, a land surveyor, lost his eyesight in an accident on Kauai, the family settled in Makiki, a section of Honolulu.

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.”

At age 8 he made his public debut playing his toy marimba on the Listerine Amateur Hour on radio station KGMB, Honolulu playing “Twelfth Street Rag.” “I won a bottle of Listerine,” he laughed. Lyman joined his father and brother playing USO shows on the bases at Kaneohe and Pearl Harbor.

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. “I was working at Leroy’s, a little nightclub down by Kakaako. I was making about $60 a week, working Monday to Saturday, from 9 to 2 in the morning, and then I’d go to school. So it was kind of tough.”

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. Other members of his band were Augie Colon on percussion and John Kramer on string bass. 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. For the rest of their careers they remained friendly rivals, even appearing together (with many of their former bandmates) on Denny’s 1990 CD Exotica ’90.

Although the Polynesian craze faded as music trends changed, Lyman’s combo continued to play to tourists nearly every Friday and Saturday night at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel in Honolulu throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He also performed for years at Don the Beachcomber’s Polynesian Village, The Shell Bar, the Waialae Country Club and the Canoe House at the Ilikai Hotel at Waikiki, the Bali Hai in Southern California and at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago.

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.

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