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Martin Denny/Baked Alaska
"Baked Alaksa"
Martin Denny
Collector's Choice Music

    In September 1964, Martin Denny was playing up in Anchorage, Alaska at the Officers Club at Elmendorf Air Force Base. This in and of itself was nothing special. Denny played in Alaska many times. He was a working musician after all. What makes this particular concert special was that is was broadcast live on Alaskan Air Force Command radio. 
     Although Denny played hundreds of live shows during his active career, none save this one has ever been released. In fact, the liner notes tout Baked Alaska as "his one and only live recording." For fans of exotica, this is like unearthing a long-lost live performance from the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. And speaking of those bands, 1964 was just about the time when the British Invasion was hitting big in the states. Denny and his brand of music, which were already outdated in eyes of pop culture, were just about to go totally extinct. Denny would be stuck covering popular hits of the day and even trying to join into the electronic music revolution. (If you haven't heard his Moog version of "Quiet Village" you're in for a treat.) 
     By the time of this recording, Denny had already established himself and had several hit albums under his belt, but as mentioned, the times they were a changing. The fans he made in the 1950's were growing older. They were more of the Officers Club type rather than the hip rock and roll nightclub crowd.
 As "Baked Alaska" starts, it seems like Denny and company is just another lounge combo paid to provide some musical wallpaper to the chattering officers and wives. It takes a few tunes to win over the crowd, but once that happened Denny is in full control. In-between songs, he banter is informative and captivating. It's always a treat to hear a music master narrate an evening's performance.
     The selections on the album include many of his standard hits including "Busy Port" and his trademark "Quiet Village." It also included 60's tunes "A Taste of Honey" and "The World of Suzie Wong." There is even an attempt at "America" from West Side Story. 
     One of Denny's bandmates (there is no band line-up listed in the liner notes) takes the microphone for a drowned-out-by-crowd-noise version of "Bali H'ai" and beautifully understated take on hula novelty "Keep Your Eyes on the Hands."
     The big show stopper and the point where the band really shows their musical chops is with the epic Rodgers and Hart ode to New York "Manhattan." They shift deftly between jazzy and classical styles. 
 The real fun of Baked Alaska is hearing Denny and the rest of his band include the bird calls and tropical sounds into their live performance. There is something magical about hearing all the pieces of Denny's trademark sound come together for live takes of his best known tunes. It gives those who were too young to see Denny live themselves a great taste of what his shows were like.
     The quality is what is to expected from a radio recording of the era and the final tune "Lovely Lona" is quickly cut short by a radio announcer, but none of these minor technical flaws can mar such a great musical treasure.

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