Arthur Lyman's unique blend of tiki and jungle-inspired instrumental exotica takes a rural detour on Cotton Fields (1963). One might not visually connect the incongruous cover art imagery -- of a fiery geyser -- with the early-'60s resurgence of folk music. But with it came yet another hue for the artist's already opulent sonic pallet. Lyman (vibraphone) is joined by Alan Soares (piano), John Kramer (bass/guitar/flute), and Harold Chang (percussion). Collectively they infuse the dozen familiar melodies on Cotton Fields with a palpable Polynesian influence. As was customary, the contents of Lyman's long-player were derived from a wide variety of sources. The jazzy "Jungle Drums" opens the effort in familiar territory for the participants as Lyman's wistful and somnolent marimba gives way to an ornate duet between Chang's tribal percussion and Kramer's invocative woodwinds. The update of "Greensleeves" remains rooted in a suitably majestic madrigal context with the intimacy of Kramer's acoustic guitar and Soares' light piano phrasings providing the folksy ambience. Turning to the silver screen, Lyman and company update the bluesy "Walk on the Wild Side," giving it a lighter, temperate feel -- especially when compared to Jimmy Smith's hit version. While not as prevalent as on other Lyman platters, the Great White Way figures into the proceedings as the upscale "Little Girl Blue" hails from the Richard Rogers/Lorenz Hart musical Jumbo (1935). To the same end, the LP's concluding number, "I Ain't Down Yet," is a spunky reworking thanks to Chang's top-shelf time-keeping. Lyman's refined vibes lead the ensemble through an airy and unmistakably bop-informed rendition. The burgeoning bossa nova craze likewise informs a fair share of Cotton Fields with the catchy Caribbean "Limbo Rock," as well as the equally uptempo groove percolating through the freewheeling "Hawaiian War Chant" and the rapid-fire update of "Brazil." Proving their considerable talents as romantic balladeers, Lyman and company decelerate the pace for the moody, sublime, and intimate "This Is My Beloved." Similarly, "Singing Bamboo" places the listener in a relaxed tropical setting. Although touted as stemming from the folk tradition, the title track "Cotton Fields" is given a rousing R&B makeover that seems to have been steeped in gospel instead of its typical Appalachian lineage. Rather than ramping things up for a big finale, Lyman settles into the haunting "Scarlet Ribbons." Kramer's evocative flute underscores the tender melody, placing it arguably as the album's most folksy entry. In 2008, Collectors Choice Music paired Cotton Fields with Blowin' in the Wind (1963) for a two-fer containing both -- making them available for the first time in decades.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer