Friday, August 2, 2013

Yma Sumac, Recital, 1961

Vocalist Yma Sumac was a supreme presence in the late-'50s early-'60s. She came upon the scene as part of Capitol Records' somewhat ambitious series of hi-fi exotica releases of that time. Space-age bachelors and other adventurous souls suddenly found themselves craving a music that satisfied the paradoxical two-fold need of furnishing an aural complement to their professed modernity while at the same time giving them access to the remote far-away ethnic paradises they envisioned after work hours, after the incessant strivings of the work day had taken their toll and it was time to get away into sanctuaries of cooldom.

Enter Yma Sumac, Inca Goddess. The original LPs combined Les Baxter's faux-ancient exotic arrangements with real contemporary Peruvian musical touches. And of course Yma Sumac herself. Hers was a voice of extraordinary range and color, trained yet let free to reach some thrilling heights of brilliance.

Some time in 1961 she appeared in Bucharest for a full recital with a few traditional musicians and the full sonic arsenal of the Romanian National Radio-Television Orchestra. Fortunately the tapes were rolling and the results are available on a new LP/CD all-inclusive package as Recital (ESP 4029). The LP omits the instrumental orchestral interlude cuts in order to fit the time limitations of vinyl; the CD has the full concert.

This live setting gives you a good bit of Yma, many pieces from her LP releases and several I do not recognize. Either way her vocal exceptionality is in full-force on that evening. There is power, freedom and an experimental side to her vocal barrage. Listening here to this decent, quite acceptable if sometimes a little orchestrally cramped sonic stage, I think of vocalists in the jazz avant realm who followed and wonder if they had listened to Ms. Sumac. It is possible. There is a certain avantness to her singing.

The producers-arrangers in their wish to create the exotic ambience allowed, even encouraged Ms. Sumac a good bit of latitude at times and her exceptional vocal prowess led to some pyrotechnics that one can hear as in the "out" realm. Because, after all this was suppose to be music in the realm of "out." Out of the ordinary, out of the mainstream. And too as I listened again after so long I realized that Yma Sumac was to Inca music what Sun Ra quickly was becoming in that day for the music from Outer Space. It all came about once one felt one could (assuming the talent, ability, sometimes genius to do it well) take latitude to create imaginary yet very much living musical cultures on the basis of musical free license. I would not like to compare Les Baxter with Sun Ra because Sun Ra far exceeded Mr. Baxter for musical innovation and importance. Yet there is a relation. There was something in the air, then. And, though it would never have happened I suppose, it would have been something else and not that far a stylistic stretch to imagine a collaboration between Yma Sumac and Sun Ra's Arkestra. It would have been something to hear, I am sure. Especially with Sun Ra's music as the focus and catalyst.

But what we do have is this Recital and the original LP sides. The music works best when there is enough of a Latin-Peruvian cast to the overall sound yet the full-blown exotica fantasy is also operative. There is plenty of that on the Recital. And there are some nice moments of traditional Peruvian music too.

It's a great way to introduce yourself to Yma Sumac the artist. And for those who have the LPs and love what they hear this will be a treat!

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