Music News


Since this week's mondo lounge spectacular has brought us to the bustling intersection of Suave and Debonair, it's only fitting to have a seat on the divan next to one of the true masters of the genre. Juan Garcia Esquivel -- known to his highballing fans simply as Esquivel (ESS-kee-bell) -- was born in the village of Tampico, Mexico in 1918. After gaining chops and notoriety on a daily Mexico City radio show, he moved to New York to study piano at Julliard, made the rounds in Hollywood and Las Vegas, and eventually unleashed the purest (or most insipid, depending on your taste) lounge music known to man. A meticulous, unpredictable composer and arranger, his signature space-age bachelor pop helped define the golden age of lounge in the late '50s and early '60s. Call it kitsch, hip, genius, or inane -- there's no denying the glorious levity and cornball panache in his music.

As the label that ignited the lounge revival of the last decade, Bar None knows Esquivel's work as well as anyone. Recorded in 1974, Sights and Sounds is a previously unreleased promotional tool for Esquivel's six-month residency at a Mexican restaurant in Chicago. As such, a slew of your favorite mariachi jams -- "La Raspa" (known popularly as the theme to the Mexican Hat Dance), "Jalisco," "Estrellita" -- are done up in goofy, electro-lounge style, with big E laying heavy piano. He's backed by a four-piece band and two appropriately angelic female vocalists. Along with swizzle-stick swing, there's a fair amount of near-funk here, mostly popping from bongo banger Jimmy "Chino" Lara and upright bassist Don Perez. A trio of schmaltzy standards, "Delta Dawn," "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Good Morning Heartache," offers the only lyrics not consisting of "doot-doots" and "zu-zus. " Even when intertwined in Esquivel's complex arrangements, which sway from lightweight mambo machismo to petulant Broadway balladry, the band is tighter than Don Rickle's cummerbund. And speaking of, Sinatra, Matt Groening, and Steely Dan, all saw the magic in Esquivel's madness. Get on this crazy ride, baby, and you might never wanna get off.

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Jonathan Zwickel