The combination of lounge and Latin music the mighty Esquivel! trafficked in comes to life thanks to the flashier-than-thou services of Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica on The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel.
Esquivel! is, of course, Mexican lounge music king Juan Garcia Esquivel. Dubbed the “Busby Berkley of Cocktail Music,” Esquivel’s music fuelled swanky bachelor pads for decades before it sadly sunk into obscurity. Some shag carpet purists may still revel in the ultimate joy of his renditions of popular tunes, but for the most part Esquivel’s legacy was left in a Las Vegas storage container.
Enter Mr. Ho (multi-percussionist and pianist Brian O’Neill) and his zany collective of creative musicians. His Orchestrotica is actually two ensembles, the first of which is the 23-piece big band found blasting their way through Esquivel’s catalogue on this recording. The second is a vibraphone quartet that we’ll certainly be hearing a lot more from with the upcoming release of Third River Rangoon, a play on third-stream.
The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel is our more immediate concern, though, and for good reason. This electrifying bit of work is every bit the strange musical fantasy is sets out to be. Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica is the only group on this glowing planet to have in their possession a transcribed selection of Esquivel’s big band arrangements.
By plunging into the velvet vault of Esquivel!, Mr. Ho’s group comes out with a collection of 11 pieces that stretch the imagination and set it grooving. There’s some kinky stuff afoot, but it all has a magical quality that blasts past kitsch and into legitimately hip territory.
The opening number, “Andalucia,” would please Ernesto Lecuona with its appreciative manipulation of Latin music from the 60s and bold film scores. The Esquivel! arrangement is to thank, sure, but Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica trots out the good stuff with a super-swell salvo of percussion and badass horns.
Esquivel’s arrangements of cuts like “Mini Skirt” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” take some different paths, allowing Mr. Ho’s collective of cool the opportunity to spread out in the aisles. The former uses vocalists as instrumentalists to power out an array of “pow-pows,” while the latter integrates Cuban trumpeter Yaure Muniz in high fashion with a blistering solo.
It’s easy to discard space pop, lounge music and Exotica, Latin-infused or not, as a sort of cheesy nod to a bye-gone era. But Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica succeeds in making this music seriously fun again. There’s sheer joy here, punched through with every whistle and harmony, and that accomplishes more than any parody could.
The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel is a terrific album, well worth many a listen for its unique ability to produce smiles and grooves as saucy and glamorous and diverse as the man who inspired it.