Juan Garcia Esquivel—his name will forever be associated with so-called Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, or, perhaps more accurately, Easy Listening. While his music is most certainly worthy of the “easy listening” categorization, it’s really easy to write off just how innovative his music was. El Records’ latest release, Latin-esque, compiles his 1961 album alongside 1958’s Exploring New Sounds In Stereo, as well as a handful of tracks from two volumes of his Infinity In Sound series.
The music on Latin-esque is cool. Very cool, in fact. It’s jazz with, you guessed it, a Latin groove, and the dozen tracks are lighthearted, breezy fare that will make you think it’s the playlist of the coolest cantina you’ve never been to. But don’t let its simplicity fool you; you have to slip on headphones to discover just how innovative this easy-on-the-ears music really is. Esquivel liked to play around with channels, and on headphones, you can hear an instrument start out on the right channel and then gradually shift to the left channel, while the left channel does the same. It’s a delightfully unique arrangement technique, best exemplified on numbers such as “Cachito (Pedacito)” and the amazing vocal harmonies on “Estrellita.” Moreover, it’s impossible to not smile with his arrangements of congas, bongos, Latin percussion and horns, as well as his signature prepared gourd he deemed the “scratcher.”
The second album on this collection dates from a few years prior, and though it doesn’t contain the Latin rhythms explored on Latin-esque, it does offer a fresh, unique Esquivel take on classic jazz and pop numbers like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “All Of Me,” “My Blue Heaven,” and the delightful “Third Man Theme.” The selections taken from his Infinity In Sound series features both contemporary numbers like “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Bye Bye Blues,” as well as enjoyable takes on “Take The ‘A’ Train” and “Sentimental Journey,”
Esquivel wonderfully combined the curiosity of experimental music with an easy listening big band style that easily disguised his innovations, and he made you forget you were listening to something unique and ahead of its time. That’s a rare feat, and yet it was second nature to Esquivel, as Latin-esque wonderfully demonstrates.