Even though we’ve only got two more days to post Christmas records, we wanted to rerun this one which we first posted last year because the songs are a lot of fun.
We’re fans of Juan Garcia Esquivel, the Mexican composer and bandleader who was sort of like the Sun Ra of lounge music. His inventive, idiosyncractic arrangements of pop standards defined “space age bachelor pad” music decades before hipsters invented the term, and his unusual instrumentation is instantly recognizable. Few other arrangers employed exotic percussion like Chinese bells, triangles and maracas so extensively, or shared Esquivel’s enthusiasm for glassando runs on the slide guitar — this latter providing the distinctive Boing! heard in so many of his recordings. Vocal arrangements were often nonsensical, if meticulous, sometimes seeming as though they were simply reading the text from a fight scene from Batman.
Although his orchestra often performed jazz standards (one of our favorites is his version of “Cherokee”) there was little improvisation besides Esquivel himself at the piano.
In the sixties Esquivel often performed with his orchestra and chorus in Las Vegas, accompanied by a light show which pre-dated Pink Floyd by years, sometimes opening for Frank Sinatra. Check out this section from a 2000 Mexican documentary about him. His albums were hardly best-sellers in the United States so its hard to build up a collection — more recently they have provided plenty of revenue for RCA in the form of lounge music compilations.
Esquivel never had the opportunity to make his own Christmas album, but he did contribute six tracks to this compilation put out by RCA/Victor in 1959. The other songs are provided by Ray Martin, a stuffy Austrian bandleader. On two of Esquivel’s songs, his orchestra is accompanied by the Skip-Jacks, a group who are best known for providing the vocals to the theme from The Flintstones. The remaining four feature his own chorus, which like his orchestra was highly disciplined by their perfectionist employer. Esquivel offers a fun new look at some familiar holiday standards.