Provocative Percussion

Enoch Light

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Provocative Percussion Review

by Lindsay Planer

This is the first in a series of Provocative Percussion (1960) platters under the supervision of Enoch Light. He led his own Light Brigade big band during the 1930s, then became a prolific arranger and producer for the better part of the '40s and early '50s. Later in the decade he formed the Grand Award label and then in 1959 the Command Records moniker. It was here where Light began to create products specifically for the burgeoning stereo LP market, which at the time was more or less a hi-fi audiophile novelty. Under the direction of Terry Snyder, Light and the revolving cast known as either the Command All-Stars or simply just the All-Stars, began to experiment with extreme stereophonics, using close microphone techniques and hard-left or hard-right panning to re-create a comparatively austere sense of what could be accomplished with two distinct channels of sound. This contrasted the conventional monophonic playback medium, which delivered a solitary audio source. As innocuous as that may seem, it was cutting-edge technology for its time. Light's interest extended into the recording process itself as he was one of the early proponents of 35 millimeter film rather than magnetic-based audio tape. This would significantly increase both frequency response, as well as the permanence of playback. In many ways, Provocative Percussion is the fraternal twin of Persuasive Percussion (1959). They are both borne of the same motivation and are "modern" interpretations of familiar and popular music standards circa 1960. Stylistically, however, the Provocative collections utilize a much more aggressive approach to the presentation, as if it were a novelty rather than actually furthering the dimension to the listening experience. The bongo intro that harshly pans from left to right during the introduction to "You're the Top" is essentially replicated with a wooden guiro during the incipient moments of "Love for Sale." These are notably austere when compared to the extended instrumental ensemble scores that follow. They evoke the late-'50s Atomic Age retro chic and space-age bachelor pad sensibility borne of John Lautner's Googie-inspired abstract architecture, which likewise informed a majority of the gatefold LP jackets. [In 1995, Provocative Percussion was released on CD with six additional sides from Provocative Percussion, Vol. 2 (1960) -- including the definitive reading of "Hernando's Hideaway," which is immediately recognizable from the opening castanet chatter to the swirling accordion solos. Keen-eyed observers will also note that the artwork used for the compact disc reissue was taken from the second volume, rather than the first. This is a highly recommended kitsch-classic.]

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