Sometimes records just stop you in your tracks and you have to have them. It’s rare but it does happen. It’s happened a lot over the years to me but as you get older it gets rarer. Well, I reckon this album might do to you what it did it for me. This is a special record it has a great feel, some off key poetic lyrics and the vocal harmonies and arrangements are both sublime and enchanting. It’s different.
The poetry side should be no surprise when you find out that Eden Ahmez was the writer of the standard, ‘Nature Boy’. A huge hit for Nat King Cole in 1948, and a song that has since been covered by Frank Sinatra, George Benson and thousands of others. He also wrote the great ’Lonely Island’ for Sam Cooke (another gem) but Eden was not your average Brill building jobbing songwriter.
Eden was a very different sort of talent. He was, a kind, of proto hippie way back in the late 40’s and early 50’s. After he had gotten Nat King Cole’s manager the music and lyrics for 'Nature Boy’, and it had found its way into being a firm favourite in Nat King Coles live sets, before they could record it they needed to find it’s author. Eden at the time was living bare foot under the Hollywood Sign in LA ! This caused an outrage in the press at the time but was totally in keeping with the rest of Eden Ahmez’s ways of living. Upon arriving in LA from NYC he had gotten a job in a cafe run by two Germans who followed a Naturmensch philosophy. Meaning that they and their associates grew their hair and beards long and ate only fruits and vegetables. They called their followers 'Nature Boys’. Eden was one and hence the song (it was originally part of six song suite). I suppose Eden was an early Beatnik but he looked much more Hippie than that.
So that leads us to this 'Eden’s Island’ which has a very Jesuit image of Eden on the cover. Originally released in 1960 on Del Fi Records. It is informed by his state of living. Poetic, primitive and exotic. It has the feel of exotica, it’s a bit Les Baxter in the use of vibes and resonant tones but it has a deepness and a spirituality that makes it sound much more contemporary and engaging. The album paints the picture of Eden’s ideal world. Eden indeed ! A great example is the track 'Full Moon’. A melancholy flute and some vibes set the mood for a tale of life on an island where the world is free and life is isolated, easy and everyone gets on in one big natural love in. It is idealistic and naive but a perfect narrative over the lush, easy sounds that accompany it. When the choir is employed the tunes have the feel of those deep spiritual jazz albums from the likes of Black Jazz or Strata East but they predate those records by years and are much less complex and more fun.
I don’t know exactly why I have gotten so excited about this record but it really has blown me away. Yes its got a good back story to it and it is a long lost obscurity from a true original and may be that is why the music has taken me somewhere that isn’t cold London in December but a different time and place. It has an optimism that possibly embodies Eden’s original bohemian life style but it is the music that does it. It is a great jazz inflected curiosity that works from beginning to end. I love those. It is a full album and a different one and If you are looking for that sort of mood I can’t recommend it highly enough…
-Ross Allen for Cool Accidents