Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica,
The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel
(independent, 2010)

This is a wonderful CD but, before the review, a bit of background on the artist behind it.

Juan Garcia Esquivel (1918-2002) was an early experimenter with stereo recordings in the late 1950s and early '60s. He was one of the prime artists to be rediscovered for lounge and/or exotica music, also known as "space age bachelor music" or "space age pop." For a session he would go so far as recording two orchestras a block apart and mix the sounds together live for stereo separation.

As Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica recreates in 11 tracks, Esquivel orchestrated hits of the day as well as his own compositions. Many were Latin, as would be expected from a native of Mexico. Tracks here include "Night & Day," "Take the A Train" and "Dancing in the Dark." But the arrangements are far from standard. Mr. Ho includes steel guitar, bass flute and accordion along with horns and a rhythm section that includes Mr. Ho (Brian O'Neill) on piano.

He includes unusual percussion, with an emphasis on xylophones. And there are vocalists, but rather than straight singing of the lyrics, they will whistle or sing phrases like "cha cha cha" and "groovy." As did Esquivel, Mr. Ho likes surprises and using unusual effects and instruments. It is great to hear this music in a modern recording. Esquivel's reputation has grown since his death; John Leguizamo was even slated to star in a biopic. Maybe the music is a bit less exotic now, but this CD makes it just as fun as it ever was.

This is more than a studio project. The Orchestrotica does live shows, but since the band has 23 pieces, their touring is limited, at least for now (they are fairly new, so they might be able to expand their schedule.) If they ever hit Pennsylvania. I am going to see them faster than a space-age bachelor can make a cocktail.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Dave Howell

22 January 2011

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