Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica

The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel

I don’t know if this retro look at the work of Mexican pianist/composer/bandleader Juan Garcia Esquivel should be classified as music for the ages or music for the aged, as it strives—and succeeds—in evoking the sort of 1950s music called exotica that was recorded by the bands of Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, among others. This ambitious project features a 23-piece band, led by pianist/percussionist Brian “Mr. Ho” O’Neill, re-creating 11 of Esquivel’s own arrangements using the best of today’s recording techniques. It’s no coincidence that this musical genre was born in the late ’50s, at the dawn of the stereo era, as the records utilize the stereo process to the max. Here, for example, on the Billy Strayhorn classic “Take the ‘A’ Train” (which is actually about a New York City subway line), a vocal chorus imitates the sound of a steam engine starting up by going “sssss” and “chhhhhhs” in alternate speakers. Esquivel, often referred to as “The King of Space-Age Pop,” used a lot of tinkly cocktail piano, percussion, steel-guitar glissandi and nonsense scat syllables (e.g. “pow-pow,” “zu-zu-zu”) to flavor his music. Mr. Ho and company have revived his work in a manner that will give your own stereo system a workout.