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Tell Me About Arthur Lyman

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I have a pretty extensive exotica collection, and either have or at least heard all of the essentials.

For whatever reason, Arthur Lyman doesn't do all that much for me. I have about 6 or 7 of his albums, and the only two I've really gotten into are "Taboo" and "Bwana A." I feel that, in general, his stuff lacks the rhythmic and harmonic spark you hear in the best Martin Denny stuff. On the plus side, I will say Arthur Lyman records rarely contain the annoying novelty numbers that vex some of Martin Denny's albums. I will also say that I appreciate an album such as "Hawaiian Sunset" as a kind of a proto-ambient record, but I wouldn't ever reach for it if I need an exotica fix.

I'm curious if any of you have had similar reactions, or if I'm simply missing something. Also, are there some hidden gems spread across his catalog that I haven't heard?


I am in agreement with your assessment.



I own a LOT more Arthur Lyman than Denny...mainly cuz its easier to find ..he seemed to have a lot more PRODUCT out then Martin Denny. He also tried for some unusual things ..like being a HEART THROB of the exotica set and SINGING..neither of which brought him much luck. I DO like a lot of his stuff but its about 50-50..i agree with the schmaltz assessment--BOTH artists produced a lot of DRECK as well as gems; I think Denny had more of a musicians VISION and Lyman was more of a PERFORMER...honestly though, most of my GO TO LPs for quick exotica fixes end up being Lymans (Hawaiian Sunset, Exotic Percussion, Bwana A, Legend of Pele, Ilikai. Latitude 20)


Well...being that he put out some 30 lp's, there is bound to be filler, but some of his best work is really amazing. That being said, playing mostly instrumental music there is an element that is missing to connecting with people and that is Lyrics. Besides, even Martin Denny himself is quotes as calling his music "window dressing", which means, sitting down and just listening to it is not really it's purpose. It's meant to bring out or set the mood in the room.

That being said...the real essence os what Arthur Lyman is about is here...

It's all about his ability to emote on the vibraphone...this is probably the best version of Quiet Village I've ever heard. just him....beautiful.

Actually, I think I like gene Rains Better than both Denny and Lyman,....but not that many people talk about him.

[ Edited by: tikiyaki 2008-01-09 07:46 ]

I like Arthur Lyman simply for the fact that the man never deviated from his "sound." He never really changed his sound or made a Moog record like Martin Denny. His entire catalog is classic Exotica!!

Arthur Lyman's music will always brings a chill to my spine!! :)

Cheers and Mahalo,

[ Edited by: Jeff Central 2008-01-09 08:06 ]


MK is ALWAYS the very FIRST Christmas LP I throw on every time November rolls around...that and the HI Kids Choir that is ALL in Hawaiian


I have a feeling that Martin and Arthur were in the studio far more often than they might have wanted to be . " Exotica " was hip for a while and the record companies wanted to capitalize on the popularity of Denny and Lyman while the genre was still hot . Early rock groups went through the same thing . The record companies thought rock was a just a passing phase and would fizzle out in a couple of years SO they pushed product out the door as fast as possible and this accounted for a lot of the dreck you will find on early Brit Invasion albums for example .

As for Arthur Lyman , his music has a more calming effect on me , and takes me on a trip to Hawaii in my mind . Leis of Jazz ; Percussion Spectacular ; Taboo ; Hawaiian Sunset ; Pele ...all essential listening as far as I am concerned . Must get the Bahia / Bwana A CD when it comes out as I've heard nothing but good reports about these two albums and dig the tracks I have heard on the Exotic Sound Of The Arthur Lyman Group 25 track CD compilation .


On 2008-01-09 08:05, Jeff Central wrote:
I like Arthur Lyman simply for the fact that the man never deviated from his "sound." He never really changed his sound or made a Moog record like Martin Denny. His entire catalog is classic Exotica!!...

Well, the fact that world has one more moog album than it would have is not a bad thing! :wink:

Probably old news around here, but Martin Denny had little if anything to do with his albums from about "A Taste of Honey" on. They were played by studio groups with MD's name slapped on the covers.


On 2008-01-09 07:02, bb moondog wrote:
I own a LOT more Arthur Lyman than Denny...mainly cuz its easier to find ..he seemed to have a lot more PRODUCT out then Martin Denny...

I see you're in Arizona. Did the HiFi label have better distribution on the west coast (and surrounding areas)? I've mostly lived on the east coast, both north and south. I've encountered WAY more Denny albums out here than Lyman. Interesting.

I think you have to dig vibes as much as I do. I listen to Cal Tjader as much as I listen to Atta. Having seen him perform live while the tradewinds wafted around me helped too :D


On 2008-01-09 20:02, bigbrotiki wrote:
I think you have to dig vibes as much as I do...

Trust me, I do. Ask my vibraphone player.

The Lyman LPs crop up in groups...usually a couple Dennys in with about 5 Lymans...I really don't know distribution wise how it worked out...they are usually in pretty good shape though--I know the Pele I got in Utah was a DEMONSTRATION copy and is REALLY nice


On 2008-01-09 07:46, tikiyaki wrote:

That being said...the real essence os what Arthur Lyman is about is here...

It's all about his ability to emote on the vibraphone...this is probably the best version of Quiet Village I've ever heard. just him....beautiful.

[ Edited by: tikiyaki 2008-01-09 07:46 ]

Wow. Great video!

I do not have any of his music on my computer. If I
was going to get one of his cd's which do you suggest?
I know iToons has about 17 albums including three
or four best of albums.

I just posted on my blog a notice about Collector's Choice Music - they have a bunch of Arthur Lyman 2-on-1 CD's, imports I believe, with many albums not previously available on CD.

UPDATE: Whoops, didn't notice that this is already being discussed in another thread - sorry!

Double Crown Records

[ Edited by: Double Crown 2008-01-10 13:54 ]

You know, this may be sacrilege, but I vastly prefer Lyman's records to Martin Denny's, and I even feel that in a lot of ways, Lyman had more to do with Martin Denny's success than Denny himself did.

For me, the best Lyman albums have a super-smooth and very tranquil feeling that defines Hawaiian exotica. With a Lyman LP on the old Rec-o-cut turntable and a mai tai in hand, all of my troubles melt away. Arthur's records are like audio opium, some sort of lullaby that puts me completely at ease.
In contrast, some of Denny's records often have a choppy, staccatto feeling that I occasionally find dissonant or grating.

In addition, two other points:

First, I may be setting myself up for a lynching here, but I am just going to say this. For all of Martin Denny's considerable an inarguable contributions to Exotica music, he was a rather mediocre pianist. I doubt that many people have ever listened to a Denny record and thought to themselves: "Man, that Martin Denny is a real whiz on the ivories!". He by no means sucked, but he was no virtuoso either. He was a master of style over substance, which of course is what all of Tiki and Exotica is about. But speaking purely musically, his chops were solidly on the good side of adequate, but nowhere near excellent.
Lyman, on the other hand, is a phenominal vibraphonist, nearly equal in my estimation (nearly, I say) with Milt Jackson of Modern Jazz Quartet and the amazing Cal Tjader.
Ca, by the way dabbled in Exotica with two LPs, available on one CD (a must have!):

Second, Lyman's records were produced, engineered, and mixed better than Denny's, and I prefer them sonically, hands down. Listen to some of the Denny albums and you'll hear things like a shaker (or something) front and center, drowning out the piano, vibes, and congas. This happens on many of Denny's tracks. These problems crop up much less frequently on Lyman's records which, have a better balance and smoother overall tonal characteristics.

So, you asked, and I answered!
This is the magic of Arthur Lyman!

I will agree with you about the sound on Arthur Lyman's records.

However, I think Denny is a much better pianist than the guy who played for Arthur Lyman. Denny had a much deeper harmonic vocabulary and better technique. When Lyman's pianist tries to play jazzy (like on "Leis of Jazz") he uses some pretty square chord voicings.

I've always had a trashed stereo copy of "Taboo II" but recently found a very clean mono copy. Last night we gave it a spin while leafing through "Tiki Moderne." It has I think three tunes that Lyman originally did with Martin Denny on one of the first two albums. And, like a Martin Denny albums, it has one or two annoying novelty tunes. Overall, I thought it compared well to any of the better Martin Denny records. I'll be spinning some more soon to see if my assessment changes.

Denny and Lyman's styles are actually quite different. It has been stated before here, but Denny was more "experimental" for lack of a better word and his tunes do have more jazzy harmonizing. Lyman's stuff is more dreamy and quiet (in general). Lyman and Gene Rains sound very similar in styles. My fave Lyman LPs are Bahia and Hawaiian Suset- GREAT!!!

Watching the "Quiet Village" Youtube video that Tikiyaki posted brought back several childhood memories from watching Mr. Lyman at Waialae Country Club. (Thanks, Jim, for posting that!)

One of my favorite aspects of live musicians is the opportunity to hear them perform solo. (Of course, the solo medium works for some musicians but not others, and favors some instruments better than others. For example, vibraphone is arguably better as a solo instrument than double bass -- but of course it depends on the abilities and sensibilities of the musician playing).

I've only seen Mr. Lyman solo. He would do weekends at Waialae where he would play an entire evening by himself. His voicings... so lush. Like someone else said: the man's ability to emote through the vibes. Bird calls and animal yells, crystal clear, but never in the way of the music. By watching him, you can see exactly how exotica became so popular. Not through gimmicky pop covers, the exoticization of jazz standards. Neither solely through exotic percussion and hip Latin lounge beats, swanky cover art and tiki establishments, mugs and cocktaillogy. But through the personal care and individual expertise of highly trained musicians.

I think what we have to consider are,

**What are specific aspects of Lyman's musicality that make us love his work? **

In my opinion, there are at least three prominent aspects of his musicianship that I like:

  • Some of Lyman's signature sound comes from his choices in mode mixture, which is in common with classical and jazz musics, but also is prominently done in Hawaiian slack-key guitar.
  • The interplay of musical idioms from 'other' musics (i.e. Latin, Hawaiian), always in support of melody
  • An underlying hint of mysticism and wonder - never blatant or overpowering; arguably more introverted than that of his peers (Denny, Wechter, Colon, etc.)
  • Choices of musical works to perform.

My favorite piece that Lyman does is "Seabreeze." That seemed to be one of his favorites too, because you could count on it almost every time he came to play. Another is "Imi Au Ia Oe."

Sounds like a future post for my Exoticology 101 blog... Come on over in a day or so, I'll have something posted up.



Just came across This Video of the Arthur Lyman Orchestra performing Taboo on local TV in Seattle. I had no idea they got all that percussive sound out of only four guys! Makes me want even more to invest in that quijada (jawbone) I've been meaning to buy for months now. You'll also want to check out Otome-san from later in the show.

For me, Arthur Lyman's sound IS the sound of what I wish all Exotica could be. As mentioned above: mysterious, yet virtuosic at times, tantalizingly wide and wild dynamic changes when called for, and of course, remembering that almost all of his classic albums were recorded live (at 3AM) in the reverberant space of the Kaiser Dome. All that "mixing" was done during the performance itself, back in an era when multi-tracking was still in experimental stages, and editing was manual and time-consuming. That takes skill and musicianship.

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