Third River Rangoon – Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – Exotica for Modern Living 002 ****:
Most readers are probably not aware that there is an active “bachelor pad music” movement going on, with web sites and record labels devoted to it. It is part of the retro thing, referring to easy listening genres of music from the ‘50s and ‘60s which were enjoyed by mostly male chic singles living in suburban areas. Mexican arranger Esquivel is probably the major name in space age bachelor pad music, which started in the mono era, but was given a shot in the arm by the spatial effects between the two channels of stereo which Esquivel exploited in his arrangements. They used blistering brass, noisy Latin percussion, vocalese, and he pulled out all the stops in overdone Hollywood-style sonics. His albums were intended only for hi-fi listening in the home – not for being performed live.
Percussionist, vibraphonist and composer Mr. Ho is really Brian O’Neill, and he decided to create a 22-piece band that could play this type of music live. He laboriously transcribed the music of Esquivel’s arrangements off the original LPs, but this CD is entirely music inspired by Esquivel but not his original selections. His current Orchestrotica consists of standard big band instrumentation plus four singers, steel guitar, extensive percussion, accordion, Hammond B-3 and bass flute, but this disc is mostly a quartet with a fifth member on oud.
This CD is the latest in Ho’s resurrection of some of the zaniest Esquivel-type new originals in the same style. The music has been a big hit in Mexico City as well as around the world. On the disc we hear a collection of updated pop, jazz, chamber and world music. The 11 tracks include a jazz waltz by Cal Tjader, Tchaikovsky’s Arab Dance, an Autumn Digging Dance featuring an oud solo, and an updating of the Hawaiian exotic sounds of Arthur Lyman. Get your lava lamp, bongos and black Russian and join in the amazing sounds.
Third River Rangoon, Thor’s Arrival, Maika, Colorado Waltz, Arab Dance, Phoenix Goodbye, Terre Exotique, Autumn Digging Dance, Moai Thief, Lonesome Aku of Alewife, Lyman ’59.
— John Henry