The musical style known as exotica began in the late '50s in the wake of World War II when the Pacific theater of that war drew attention in the U.S. to the life, music, and culture of Oceania. A handful of artists like Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, and most famously, Les Baxter, mixed island and Latin rhythms, smoothed-out bop and orchestral jazz, Far East melodies and other bits of musical flotsam into a sort of fantasy soundscape of the tropics, the birth of "Tiki Culture," as it were. It was bright, expansive chillout music decades before its time, and by the mid-'60s, the first wave of it was played out. The Gene Rains Group, a Hawaiian jazz quartet led by vibraphonist Gene Rains, was one of these exotica jazz bands, recording just four albums between 1960 and 1964, three with Decca Records and one with Vocalion Records, and since none of the albums was ever reissued on CD, the LPs became big items in the collector's market. This set collects 19 tracks from the three Decca releases (1960's Lotus Land, 1961's Far Across the Sea, and 1962's Rains in the Tropics), making a smooth-flowing introduction to Rains' bright and gentle sound, which feeds off of his vibraphone playing and drifts away into the world of fantasy Oceania, all while remaining somehow clearly ensemble jazz. There's even a very smiling and uplifting version of Duke Ellington's classic "Caravan" here, along with fun romps like "Bangkok Cockfight," and it all feels as fresh as a midday tropical rain. Perhaps "Love Theme from 'The World of Suzie Wong'" is the key track here, because like the movie it came from, it represents a familiar imagined world we recognize at once, even if it never really existed.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett