Fans of Arthur Lyman (marimba/vibraphone/guitar) can hear a distinct shift in his sound, beginning in earnest with Llikai (1967). Among the changes behind the scenes were the replacement of Arthur Lyman Group cohorts John Kramer (bass/bamboo flute) and Allen Soares (piano/celeste) with Archie Grant, Jr. (bass) and Clem Low (piano/keyboards). Unlike the majority of their earlier recordings, the dozen-song LP was documented in their transplanted digs at the Grand Ballroom -- dubbed the "Canoe House" -- at the Ilikai Hotel on Waikiki Beach. Seemingly, the relocation influenced both the album, as well as its sublime and wistful title track. It is likewise a reflection of how -- regardless of the personnel changes -- the combo's tried and true approach continued to serve them and their audience well. In honoring their home turf they also pay an homage to Hawaiian composer Kui Lee by covering his originals -- the uptempo frolicking opener "Ain't No Big Thing" and the light and lovely ballad "Lahaina Luna." Other island-inspired entries of note are the percussive and moody "Shells," an intimate "Upon a Lonely Beach," and the ever-popular "Tiny Bubbles" -- best known as Don Ho's memorable, if not unofficial theme song. Equally successful are Lyman and crew's adaptation of a pair of cinematic selections. First up is "Born Free" -- which "goes native" about halfway through the arrangement, doubling the tempo and with Harold Chang (percussion) at his most tropical. The other is a groovy reading of "Lara's Theme" that is deceptively pompous thanks to Low's introductory piano flourishes. Similarly superior is their scintillating "La Bomba" (aka "La Bamba" -- the same traditional Mexican folk melody that had been renovated into a seminal rocker for Ritchie Valens). Returning to the somewhat jazzier fare are the spirited Nat Adderley-penned "Work Song" and a refined take of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." As part of their extensive upgrade of Arthur Lyman's catalog, in 2008 Collectors' Choice Music reissued Llikai along with At the Port of Los Angeles on CD, making each available for the first time in several decades.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer