Martin Denny fans will be glad to discover the old man of exotica still at the piano. More than just a tribute or Denny's latest band, Don Tiki already seems more accomplished in several ways than the Martin Denny Group at its peak. First, highest credit must go to leader "Perry Coma" (Kit Ebersbach) for writing 3/4 of the debut CD's 13 tracks. (Denny wrote and plays on "Exotica '97" and the closing piano indulgence, "Forever & Ever.") In addition, ad guru Lloyd Kandell has done a first-rate job of packaging and promotion. Also thanks to Kandell, the band reaches the essence of "cocktail culture" without trampling Hawaii.
Don Tiki is doing what a Denny-esque band should be doing today. The Forbidden Sounds of Don Tiki is a welcome departure from hoary '50s exotica. Almost all the tunes are original, and "An Occasional Man" succeeds as both an adaptation and one of several exotica-torch song vocals. Like the singing, the all-important percussion is jazzy and adventurous, not overbearing. The augmentation, from flute and harp to vibes and whistling, is also somewhere flatly in the middle between subtle and impressive. (Lopaka Colon, son of August Colon in the Denny Group, continues his father's bird calls.) Don Tiki's casual, not-quite-fully-absurd style shines throughout, with an energy never more nor less than that of a party in the islands; non-seriousness also lets them sidestep trying to make exotic instruments sound plausible on CD. Fun music for fun people, Forbidden Sounds is a hip trip on a party ship, or at least a vibe every beach bar needs.