Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – The Unforgettable Sounds Of Esquivel TIKI-001, 29:43 *****:
(Yaure Muniz – trumpet; Paul Perfetti – trumpet; Mark Sanchez – trumpet; Joe Stewart – trombone; Chris Beaudry – bass trombone; Ken Pope – horn; Geni Skendo – bass flute; Rusty Scott – organ; Rusty Wutkiewicz – accordion; Tim Obetz – steel guitar; Tev Stevig – acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Jason Davis – bass; Mike Walsh – drums; Noriko Terada – percussion; Jeremy Lang – percussion; Mr. Ho – piano, percussion; Paul Ahistrand, Russ Gershon, Jared Sims, Chris Veilleux – woodwinds/saxophones; Kathleen Doran, Jennifer O’Neill, Paul Pampinella, Yolanda Scott – vocalists)
It is one thing to cover someone else’s music. But it is something completely different to capture the spirit and heart of the material. In the case of Mr. Ho (Brian O’Neill), his mission was to recreate the sound of Esquivel. The music associated with this peculiar music legend is difficult to categorize. With a cadre of exotic instruments (accordions, Chinese bells, bongos tuned to F), zany vocalese and latin-infused rhythms (cha cha, mambo), his arrangements resembled an easy listening, Las Vegas lounge motif. Despite the perplexity of this approach, Esquivel gained notoriety in post-modern mid-nineties as an alternative to the humorless world of grunge. The Mexican arranger had an idiosyncratic connection to the “Space Age” era of the late fifties and early sixties.
Mr. Ho, without the help of original manuscripts, painstakingly recreated the transcriptions of these stylized arrangements off the original LPs. He assembled a twenty-three piece band, and previously recorded two CDs of this material. The Unforgettable Sounds Of Esquivel, is the first release of a two-part series entitled Exotica For Modern Living. At a blistering thirty minutes [just like an LP…Ed.], eleven tracks capture the inventive signatures of Esquivel space age pop. From the opening trumpet salvos in “Andalucia”, the quirky sounds evolve with high register piano runs, bass trombone, and a dreamy vocal chorus of …”aahs”. The evocative feel of these songs is overwhelming. “Frenesi” has a dramatic mambo context, enlivened with a cheesy organ, bongos, steel guitar and bizarre vocals (“zu,zu,zu”), all tightly wound in horn refrains. The listener is whisked away in a time machine to a Holly Golightly cocktail party with martinis and cigarette holders. Atypical covers sustain the pleasing ambience. “Take The A Train” has a standard horn-driven foundation, but is liberated by a shore leave reverie of percussion, vocal hissing and a drifting flute solo. Whistling, bass trombone, marimba and tempo breaks are just part of a spirited take on “Sentimental Journey”.
This album is unbridled fun. “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” resonates in cha-cha bliss, while “Mini Skirt” (an Esquivel original) is hysterical with “wolf whistles”, 60s movie soundtrack stuff, latin vocalese, and syncopation. Each song is played with deft irresistible harmonics. Every detail is here. The depth of the musical expression is never overshadowed by the instrumentation. The final cut, “Street Scene” combines a moody theme with a plaintive trumpet solo (Mark Sanchez), tight horn charts and a brooding piano lead. Clearly, aesthetics are not compromised by eccentricities.
The Unforgettable Sounds Of Esquivel pays homage by offering faithful renditions with unyielding dedication and artistic verve. [There’s some hilarious Mr. Ho videos on YouTube…Ed.]
TrackList: Andalucia; Night And Day; Take The A Train; The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams; Music Makers; Frenesi; Sentimental Journey; Mini Skirt; Let’s Dance; Dancing In The Dark; Street Scene
— Robbie Gerson