Juan Garcia Esquivel, known to his highballing fans as simply 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 Juilliard, 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, he helped define the golden age of lounge in the late '50s and early '60s with his signature space-age bachelor pop. Call it kitsch, hip, genius or inane -- there's no denying the glorious levity and cornball panache in his music.
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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, many 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 Rickles's cummerbund. Frank 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.