Tribute to Mancini: “Lujon” for Solo Guitar and Looper

I was polishing up my solo solo version of this lesser-known Mancini tune, and I was reminded once again of the late composer’s genius. Sure, we all know he was a great tunesmith and brilliant orchestrator. But the deeper you dig into his compositions, the more remarkable things you uncover.

Even though Mancini worked exclusively in pop idioms, I rank Hank as one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. Everything he composed seems to have some remarkable and unlikely compositional twist, even the best-known tunes we take for granted. Consider the slippery chromaticism and crunchy minor-3rd modulations of the Pink Panther theme. Or the familiar “Baby Elephant Walk” melody β€” if you take a step back, you realize how bizarre it is, rocketing up as an arpeggio before leaping down to a dissonant note. It’s also easy to forget how shocking the Peter Gunn theme was, with those violent dissonant accents, not to mention its unprecedented fusion of brainy Stan Kenton harmonies and greasy guitar rock. (Jobim is the only parallel I can draw in terms of writing wildly original chromatic themes that somehow become universally beloved pop melodies.)

This song is Mancini’s take on the exotica style created by the likes of Martin Denny and Les Baxter. (Mancini was far too tasteful to include exotica’s signature big-call effects, but I lack such restraint.) But check out the cool melody and the way is straddles the underlying harmonies:

Lujon music

We’re in A minor, but no A notes appear in the main melody. Instead, the tune lingers on the 9th, emphasizing B over the Am7 chord and E over the Dm7. Eventually an A does appear β€” but not till the downbeat of the B second, by which point we’ve embarked on a long, twisted trail of chromatic modulation.

My Mancini obsession goes way back. In the ’90s, I was privileged to play in Oranj Symphonette, a jazz group lead by cellist Mat Brubeck (yeah, Dave’s son) that also included peerless keyboardist Robbie Burger, mad multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney, and drum titan Scott Amendola (later replaced by the equally awesome Pat Campbell). Sadly, our two Rykodisc albums are out of print, but there’s buttloads of our stuff on YouTube.

Damn, I miss that band. Reunion, anyone?

9 comments to Tribute to Mancini: “Lujon” for Solo Guitar and Looper

  • smgear

    excellent, of course, but lets hear it again with some Yma Sumac samples to crank the exotica up to 11. πŸ™‚ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KprLT-JxPY

    I still can’t bring myself to part with all my thrift store 60’s pop composition/arrangement LP’s even though they take up way too much space. Mantovani, Legrand, Esquivel, Kostelanetz, the Brazillians, the multitude of latin stylings etc. Heck, even Jackie Gleason who arranged by dictating adjective descriptions and pounding out single piano notes turned out some really emotionally evocative albums… despite the ludicrously embarrassing album titles..

    And I digress as always, but Yma reminded me of Oscar Aleman – one of the criminally overlooked guitarists. He certainly wasn’t alone in this, but the latin-anglo-african blending in his repertoire and arrangements in the 30’s and 40’s are very similar to what the ‘classical-pop-exotic’ guys like Mantovani and Legrand did 25 years later.

  • Martin

    Hi Joe. I’ve got both your Oranj Symphonette cd’s. The Mancini one definitely my fav, though there both great. My wife reckons the Mancini one is actually hers but she can keep the house instead:-)
    Just checked Amazon UK and they are both available here.

  • el reclusa

    That was AWESOME, Joe. You really have the guitar-as-midi-controller thing down. Never ceases to blow my mind.

    What are you using for samples? And semi-related, what’s the amp to the left- it looks familiar but I can’t quite place it?

  • Tommy Kavounidis

    Hey Joe, I was wondering if you can share the chord progressions to your version of lujon. I am transcribing it and I’m really close just can’t quite figure it out.

  • Nuts…I miss one of your posts and then miss and opportunity for a reunion. Consider me deeply on the IN side of this, although it sounds like meeting up in Portland might be the path of least resistance.

    And hey, are you in touch with Matt? I haven’t been able to track him down and would love to catch up with him at some point.

  • Skot Jakubiec

    I have to say, Joe, that you have been the source of many of my recent obsessions- this time I am gobbling up as much Mancini as I can. What a sound this guy created! Thank you so much! I have been raiding the local CD store picking up used Mancini vinyl for a buck!

    • Joe Gore

      Cool! In addition to featuring great compositions and performances, the Mancini records from the early ’60s are just SO well recorded. Simply some of the most gorgeous analog sessions ever.

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