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

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by Mark Saleski

Walk down the street and stop twenty random people, asking them their opinion of Esquivel? If you get less than 19 “Huhwuh?”‘s, I’d be impressed. That’s sort of too bad because Juan Garcia Esquivel had far too many musical ideas in his head. Add some pedal steel to the sound of a big band? Why not?! Zingy wordless vocals? Can you say “Zu Zu Zu!”? How about recording two orchestras simultaneously? Was that stereo? Sort of.

I fell in love with this stuff when I went through my own lounge music phase. What? You didn’t have one of those? Really?

Well, I suppose the music’s not for everybody. I’m thinking that I had a predisposition to it because my folks were big fans of the Rat Pack, Englebert Humperdink, Montovani, and all of that. I’d pretty much forgotten about it until I stumbled onto a weekly show on WJUL, the UMass Lowell’s radio station. Programmed by a man named Domenic Ciccone, the 3-hour segment was chock full of loungy goodness, from Les Baxter to Yma Sumac to lesser-known artists including Pink Martini and Rhode Island’s Combustible Edison. This last group is very important because it provides a direct link to Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica.

Produced by Brother Cleve, a long-time fixture on the New England music scene (Del Fuegos, Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, Combustible Edison), Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica pays tribute to the master of bizarre by recreating, live in the studio, Esquivel’s long-lost arrangements of these popular hits of the Mad Men era.

If you’ve never heard Juan Garcia Esquivel’s music before, this isn’t a bad place to start. The label “big band” doesn’t quite provide an accurate description as there are so many other elements: humor, pop, classical, jazz, and Latin sensibilities. The trumpets are barely contained, the congas & bongos play with no shame, and the vocalists “zu zu” their way through “Sentimental Journay,” “Dancing In The Dark,” “Night and Day,” and “Take The A Train.” It’s quite a treat to hear his unique use of instruments such as the pedal steel guitar, providing counterpoint to the vicious horn blasts on tunes like Esquivel’s own “Mini Skirt.”

Descriptions of Esquivel’s music can leave the uninitiated thinking that there’s too much camp going on. But the humor and open-hearted embrace of many musics gave the albums that much more power. The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel is smartly bookended with the opening “Andalucia,” (Ernesto Leuona’s bullfighting powerhouse) and Alfred Newman’s film-noirish “Street Scene.” The stylistic reach on display illustrates both Esquivel’s creative outlook and the Orchestrotica’s ability to render it.

Now…where’s my martini?

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