Collectors' Choice Music once again delves into digitally uncharted territory. This single-disc compilation is the first domestic North American release to gather a CD's worth of the Baja Marimba Band -- an instrumental collective comprised of some of the finest studio musicians that Los Angeles had to offer -- led by the multi-percussive Julius Wechter. However, in terms of record sales and chart hits, the Baja Marimbas often took a back seat to the plethora of like-sounding ensembles who shared the A&M Records label in the mid-'60s. Stylistically, however, the Bajas' light, non-abrasive presentation perfectly complimented Alpert's (the "A" in A&M) own Tijuana Brass, as well as Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66. In fact, it was Alpert's stated intention to capitalize on various ethnic instrumentation and arrangements as they were incorporated into otherwise familiar compositions. Prior to the Baja Marimbas, Wechter's resumé included extensive recording and touring with Martin Denny's orchestra. The band's easy Polynesian-flavored delivery effortlessly incorporated Wechter's percussive offerings. In time, his contributions would likewise include arranging Denny's biggest hit, "Quiet Village," in 1959. His renown became increasingly larger as a session musician in the early '60s for as varied a list as the world of pop music incorporated during that halcyon era. The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, and the Ventures were among his prolific clients before the Baja Marimbas' eponymously titled debut long-player was released at the height of Beatlemania in April of 1964. Within the 25 tracks that comprise Best of the Baja Marimba Band, there are numerous examples of not only the diversity of material, but arguably more important, Wechter's wholly original style of arranging. His ever-changing roster of top-shelf studio support included the likes of Hal Blaine (percussion/drums), Ray Pohlman (electric bass), Lyle Ritz (string bass), and Ervan "Bud" Coleman (guitar/percussion) at any given time. The touring version of the band was comprised of a completely different set of musicians. As they are not represented on this collection, that story shall remain untold here. These laid-back, melodic recordings include unique interpretations of concurrent '60s pop hits such as: "Walk on By," "Sounds of Silence," "Georgy Girl," and "Along Comes Mary." There are also some memorable show tunes: "Sunrise Sunset," "The Look of Love," and "Somewhere My Love." However, artistically it is many of the lesser-known pieces, such as the jazzy nugget "Portuguese Washerwoman" or the amazing reading of "Summer Me, Winter Me" (titled here "Picasso Summer"), that stand out as reinventions rather than simply interpretations.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer