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Mr Ho's Orchestrotica: The Unforgettable Sounds Of Esquivel

Bruce Lindsay By

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The music of Mexican composer and arranger Juan Garcia Esquivel—often referred to with the exclamatory Esquivel!—has been described as Space Age pop, cocktail jazz and lounge music. Whatever it's called, Esquivel's music is happy music —an eccentric but optimistic take on standards and originals, incorporating the newest musical technologies of the '60s. On The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel Mr Ho's Orchestrotica presents eleven faithfully reproduced Esquivel arrangements, in just 30 minutes, and gives rise to one simple question. When will there be more?

Most of Esquivel's original albums were released between 1958 and 1968, a time when the 12" vinyl album, stereophonic sound and hi-fidelity gave musicians a chance to reproduce their music with previously unimagined clarity. Melding new technologies with his own highly original arrangements Esquivel created a distinct studio sound characterized by unusual combinations of instruments and voices, top-quality playing and, above all, a refreshingly unpretentious and humorous approach to the songs.

The Orchestrotica that so beautifully interprets Esquivel's work is a 23-piece ensemble based in Boston, Massachusetts. Brian O'Neill, a percussionist who has worked with Peter Erskine and Wallace Roney among others, is leader and pianist Mr Ho: his bright, sparkling, upper register piano sound is central to the upbeat nature of many of the songs. The Orchestra is superb—the horn section is tight and hard-hitting, the rhythm section slinky and sensual. Steel guitarist Tim Obetz, accordionist Rusty Wutkiewicz and bass flautist Geni Skendo add a touch of the exotic to the usual big band line up.

The vocal quartet of Kathleen Doran, Jennifer O'Neill, Yolanda Scott and Paul Pampinella is absolutely central to the authentic Esquivel sound: a unique vocal sound that the arranger infused with his own brand of vocalese. From the opening "Ah, ah" of Ernesto Lecuona's "Andalucia" to the final "Ah, ah" of Alfred Newman's "Street Scene"- -which also features Mark Sanchez's impressive higher register trumpet—the quartet's voices are a delight. The trademark "Zu, zu, zu," the sensual "Pow" and the funkier "Doo, doo, doo" feature strongly, often in place of the original lyrics.

The sole Esquivel original is the charmingly kitsch "Mini Skirt," a song that almost completely encapsulates the pre-flower-power '60s. The rhythm section is in terrific form and the vocals—from Pampinella's wolf whistles to the chorus of "Groo-vee," the girlish giggles, the slightly lascivious "Woww" and the so-trendy "Baby, you really blow my mind"—make it seem like the British Invasion never happened.

Mr Ho's Orchestrotica breathes fresh life into these marvelously odd arrangements, with a clear understanding of just what their creator intended them to do. The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel is music for pleasure: a happy, bouncy puppy of an album that just wants to play and have fun.

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