Arthur Lyman

Today's Greatest Hits

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The pop charts had never been considered taboo territory for those who toiled in the sonic vineyards of exotica. However, Arthur Lyman (vibraphone/bandleader/arranger) took it to a whole new level on his slew of late-'60s long players. Indeed the moniker Today's Greatest Hits (1969) aptly sums up these 11 cuts as they consist of re-castings from concurrent top tunes that included a healthy sampling from the silver screen as well. The haunting "Theme from 'Midnight Cowboy'" proves that Lyman may have evolved from the anachronistic jungle and tiki fare, but he never abandoned an uncanny ability to draw the listener into his unique and unconventional updates. The artist's vibraphone is at its most alluring, shimmering against the harmonica's searching melancholia. Although technically from the play Hair (1968), the 5th Dimension scored internationally with the powerful "Aquarius." Lyman and crew give it a jazz fusion upgrade without ever losing or detracting the soulfulness that the 5D infused into their timeless reading. Returning to the Midnight Cowboy (1969) soundtrack, Lyman takes a subdued spin of the Fred Neil-penned "Everybody's Talking." The rambling acoustic guitar spirals around Lyman's muted drizzling vibes as they nestle into the amiable melody. The beguiling "Love Theme from 'Romeo and Juliet'" benefits from an ethereal vibrato as it seeps through the song's enchanting and lyrical verses. Upbeat and frisky "Spinning Wheel" is about as funky as Lyman and company get -- well, on this release at least -- adding their own unique stamp of syncopation to the otherwise sanguine selection. Although the showy "Abergavenny" had been a one-hit-wonder for Shannon in the summer of 1969, modern ears might find it among the songs to benefit least from the child-like celeste, which comes up just short of campy, if not cartoonish. The Beatles' "Hey Jude" is taken at an easygoing and uncomplicated pace, giving the performance an overtly bluesy feel that works remarkably well in Lyman's context. The same can definitely be said of the Baja Marimba Band-inspired interpretation of the second Hair piece -- "Good Morning Starshine." The atypical south-of-the-border arrangement is among the odder diversions that Lyman would undertake in his post-exotica output. Similarly, it once again demonstrates his knack for presenting powerful ideas in the unlikeliest of places. The sole small screen entry is a thoughtful return to Lyman's origins as a Polynesian attraction with a compact ensemble supporting him on the theme to "Hawaii Five-O" that is baptized in all of the percussive trappings that made Lyman a space age bachelor pad mainstay on the mainland. In 2008, Collectors' Choice Music gathered both Today's Greatest Hits (1968) and Winner's Circle (1969) onto a double-play disc making each available for the first time in decades.

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