The mid-'60s were a productive era for the Hawaiian-based Arthur Lyman (vibes/marimba/guitar). Flanked by Harold Chang (percussion), John Kramer (bass/bamboo flute) and Alan Soares (piano/celeste), the quartet became known in exotica music circles for their adaptations of traditional fare and other tunes from a continuum of sources. These included -- but were certainly not limited to -- then modern Broadway stage, silver screen entries, as well as a Great American Songbook of pop standards. As the name implies, the dozen sides on Polynesia (1965) are more clearly focused on the band's updates of tropical titles. Nowhere is this trend as evident as the opening cover version of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" -- or the plural "Afro Blues" as denoted here. Chang's jungle-inspired percussion joins Kramer's exotic-influenced woodwinds to punctuate Lyman's serene and Soares' comparatively dynamic interpretation of the memorable melody. While perhaps not as familiar, the tranquil and benevolent "One Night in Tokyo," and the ambience evoked by the moody "Drifting Sampan" present one very distinct facet of Lyman and company's singular style, as is the project's slightly ominous centerpiece "Polynesia." Another dimension to their prowess can be heard in the jazzy "Don't Rain on My Parade," from the show Funny Girl, as well as the quite obviously heartfelt take of "Waltzing Matilda." What might at first be considered an odd choice is -- according to the written dedication on the album jacket -- performed in homage to "the everlasting honored memory of..." (then) recently departed statesman Sir Winston Churchill. In fact, some of the drum flourishes at the conclusion of the selection are, according to the LP cover text "remindful of artillery fire." Rounding out the platter is an equally earnest rendering of Pete Seeger's folkie anthem "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." Audiophiles should take specific note of the contents superior fidelity that were recorded in the acoustically ideal geodesic Hilton Hawaiian Village aluminum dome that was home for the Arthur Lyman Group at the time. In 2008, Collectors' Choice Music paired Polynesia with its long-playing predecessor Isle of Enchantment (1964) for a double-play disc containing both on a single CD. The reissue effectively reinstates the recordings after several decades out of print.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer