Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica
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Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica

Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States | SELF

Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States | SELF
Band Jazz World


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Downbeat album review (big band - Nov 2010)"

"…incredible arrangements, musicianship and artistic direction…I’m sure the only thing better than hearing the record would be seeing this group live." - Frank Alkyer - Downbeat

"Future: Perfect"

"…a marvelously flexible unit that can morph from a small, swinging combo to the full-blown 23-piece orchestra…" - Jonathan Perry - Boston Globe

"Review: The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel"

Selected as a 2010 Jazz Favorite (Mark Saleski)

" beautifully interprets Esquivel's work...breathes fresh life into these marvelously odd arrangements, with a clear understanding of just what their creator intended them to do... an album that just wants to play and have fun." - Bruce Lindsay - AllAboutJazz

"4 stars!"

"...exquisite attention to details..." (Dec 12, 2010 album review) - Sunday Times (London)

"Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica: Endless Bachelor Party"

…If John Zorn is an exotica Picasso, O'Neill is his Georges-Braque counterpart in cubism's transposition to Braque may have been the finer cubist, O'Neill may be, in the long run, a stronger exoticist than Zorn." - Gordon Marshall - AllAboutJazz

"Starbucks licensing deal (via"

In 2010, three tracks from the Orchestrotica's first big band CD was included in the Winter 2010/2011 Starbucks playlist, with a potential reach of 10,000 stores. The CD, along with all future releases, will be included in PlayNetwork's catalog for potential use by it's many retailers. - Starbucks

"Reached #5 on CMJ Latin/Alt Radio charts"

In the second week of radio play, the CD reached #5 on the CMJ Latin/Alt chart. - CMJ

"Review: The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel"

"It's a hoot to hear, and the band is spot on with the transcribed arrangements. ... If you don't smile while listening to this disc, you're made of stone. ...boy, is it fun." - Jazz Society of Oregon

"Review: The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel"

“No sound is a better fit with a dirty martini.” - Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

"Review: The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel"

"...a collection of 11 pieces that stretch the imagination...a terrific album, well worth many a listen for its unique ability to produce smiles and grooves as saucy and glamorous and diverse as the man who inspired it..." - (Jordan Richardson)

"Waitiki throws a Polynesian party to play the music of Juan Garcia Esquivel"

Waitiki throws a Polynesian party to play the music of Juan Garcia Esquivel
Joan Anderman

Friday, March 4, 2005

Waitiki is different from other bands. It’s not just that the group plays exotica, a term better suited to a decorating motif or a category of porn than a musical genre. Or that by all accounts it’s one of two ensembles in the world that still performs exotica, which was named after a 1957 album by Martin Denny and is best described -- and not well at all -- as an island-flavored blend of drums, marimbas, birdcalls, and woodwinds. Or that Waitiki shows have been known to include kung fu and watermelons.

The members of the Boston-based ensemble are on a mission to create a Polynesian experience that goes beyond the ears. Formed in 2003 by native Hawaiians Randy Wong, a bassist, and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr., who moved to Boston to study, respectively, at the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, Waitiki wants to transport an audience as far away from Boston (or Pittsburgh or Newport) as they can get without buying a plane ticket. If that means hauling tiki lamps, trees, martial arts experts, hula dancers, bananas, storytellers, and their own drink menu into snow-fringed nightclubs and urban lounges, that’s fine.

“There are no restrictions on what we can do," says Brian O’Neill, Waitiki’s vibraphonist, who with wind player Jared Laufou completes the four-piece lineup. “It’s a perfect escape."

Tonight at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Waitiki is presenting a very special show, even by Waitiki standards. The group will swell to a 20-piece ensemble, dubbed Waitiki Orchestrotica, for a rare live performance of the “supersonic space-age bachelor pad" sounds of the late Juan Garcia Esquivel, variously known as the King of Lounge, Mexico’s Duke Ellington, and -- oxymoronic though it may sound -- an easy-listening innovator.

Esquivel, who died in 2002 at the age of 84, blurred the lines between cheesy lounge music and quirky experimentalism. Influenced by progressive jazz pioneers of the ‘40s like Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson, a 1950s Esquivel record might feature a 28-piece big band with electronic flourishes, slide guitar, and a choir of voices singing nonsense syllables. After three decades of relative obscurity following his heyday in the 1960s, Esquivel enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in popularity thanks to a revival of interest among alt-hipsters in space-age pop and lounge during the mid-‘90s, when Esquivel was championed as a cutting-edge pioneer.

“He was a genius the way he combined instruments and exploited the new world of stereo sound,” says Brother Cleve, whose band Combustible Edison was at the forefront of the ‘90s revival and who befriended and collaborated with Esquivel in the last decade of his life. “It’s not elevator music. He opened up a whole realm and created a new style of music.”

The members of Waitiki had never heard of Esquivel until last November, when O’Neill happened to stumble upon a recording in a used record store in New Hampshire with a tiny exotica section. Deciding that it was the perfect complement to Waitiki’s own music, O’Neill turned the rest of the band onto Esquivel’s recordings, and they decided to get their hands on some charts and prepare an evening of his music.

But there was a problem. An unpaid bill at a storage facility in Las Vegas -- where Esquivel lived and worked for many years -- led to the destruction of nearly all of the composer’s charts 10 years ago. There was no written music. So O’Neill decided to transcribe the densely orchestrated recordings himself, by ear, at a rate of roughly 20 hours per two-minute song.

“Sometimes I didn’t know how many trumpets were playing, let alone what notes,” says O’Neill. “Sometimes instruments will generate these overtones that aren’t even being played. His stuff is out of this world. It’s been a real job. But you feel like you’ve done something good, to bring this music back.”

Bringing back the traditional exotica and tiki music native to his culture is gratifying on a deeply personal level for Wong, who moved to Boston in 1989 and has since earned a bachelor’s degree in classical double-bass performance at Berklee and a master’s in arts education at Harvard. In addition to Waitiki, Wong leads Akamai Brain Collective, whose music he describes as progressive island jams. He’s a frequent guest player with the Honolulu Symphony.

“Both Abe and I grew up listening to exotica and tiki music, which has its roots in Hawaii,” says Wong. “A few years ago this restaurant opened on Lansdowne Street called the Tiki Room, and we said ‘Oh, neat. Let’s see if there’s live music.’ There wasn’t. And it dawned on us that there weren’t any live bands in the continental US that perform this music anymore. So we thought we’d go back to our roots. I’m a fifth-generation Hawaiian-born Chinese and I write music that is, for me, an interpretation of that. There’s a big Hawaiian contingent at the shows, but one of the greatest things is we seem to cater to a real diverse crowd.“

How diverse? O’Neill enumerates: “Somerville bohemians, serious musicians, Harvard professors, my parents. More and more people are aware of this stuff. “

The band encourages jet set and aloha attire at tonight’s Esquivel show; think mod pantsuits and flower-print shirts. Special guests Gato Malo will open, and Brother Cleve will speak, spin records, and (if he can score a projector and screen) show vintage slides and film footage of Esquivel at home in Mexico. There will be hula, and liquid accompaniment inspired by and named for each of Waitiki’s members, and who knows what else.

For fans of good times, this night is a no-brainer. For devotees of the music of Esquivel, it will be a tribute to the art of subtle inflection and outsized attitude, an evening for basking in the deceptively breezy sound of 20 top-flight musicians translating a cult hero’s pixel-precise arrangements into one chill party.

“In a way this music is heavy jazz, but it’s very accessible," says O’Neill. “When you put in the antics and the visuals, people forget about trying to get it."

Joan Anderman can be reached at - Boston Globe (cover, weekend edition)

"Rinden homenaje a Juan García Esquivel con la Waitiki Orchestrotica"

This article originally appears in Spanish. for the text and the English translation. - Feature in Mexico’s La Cronica Newspaper

"Se presenta hoy la Orquestrórica Waitiki en el Teatro de la Ciudad"

This article originally appears in Spanish. View the article and English translation (via Google) at - La Jornada (Mexico City, MX)

"México Celebra á Esquivel!"

This article originally appears in Spanish. View the original text and the English translation (via Google) at - Feature in Mexico’s Districto Federal (DF) Magazine

"Reprint: Light the torches for a night with Waitiki!"

Bob Young, Jazz/World section

Friday, March 4, 2005

Here’s a combination that will melt the icicles in any New Englander’s brain: Polynesian drums, grass-skirted singers, groovy rhythms courtesy of lounge music hero Juan Garcia Esquivel, and the tiki-torch exclamation point - a full tropical drink list.

That should thaw visitors to the Lizard Lounge tonight when the 19- piece Waitiki Orchestrotica performs the exotica music of Hawaii and the “space-age bachelor pad” sounds of Esquivel.

Anyone for a nice tall “Naked Hula” cocktail? How can you not like a band that brings its own drink menu?

Waitiki got its start two years ago after Hawaii natives-turned-Boston transplants Randy Wong and Abe Lagrimas Jr. decided to form a band that would update one of the island’s most famous musical exports: the bright, breezy sound that got its name from Martin Denny’s album “Exotica.”

Back in 1959, Denny’s hit “Quiet Village” found its way into suburban homes all across the United States. It also inspired many Americans to spice up their backyard Sunday barbecues with tiki torches and introduce stern-faced wooden Polynesian statues to the living rooms of their split-levels.

Wong and Lagrimas were happy to add some of those kitschy elements, but they were more interested in melding the exotica fusion of South Pacific and Asian instruments with their jazz leanings.

“For me, it’s a chance to draw a bridge between my artistic identity and my cultural identity,” said bassist and arranger Wong, a native of Oahu.

“Abraham and I grew up with the music. Arthur Lyman, the vibes player in Martin Denny’s band, was a good friend of my family’'s and I used to go listen to him play and talk to him about music.

“I rediscovered it a couple of years ago in college when I was looking to share the music of Hawaii with my friends. A lot of people think of Don Ho and ukeleles and steel guitars strumming away. But there are other sounds from Hawaii.”

Wong and Lagrimas put a notice on the Craigslist Web site looking for someone who could do bird calls. Boston-based musician Brian O’Neill answered and also brought his vibes, percussion and piano skills to the party.

During a subsequent visit to a record store in, of all places, Keene, N.H., O’Neill stumbled upon the music of Esquivel.

“I’d never heard of him,” he said. “I’m kind of new to the whole lounge-tiki scene. But when I listened to it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is like the sister to exotica.’ That started us.”

Tonight’s show will include a number of Esquivel pieces that band members transcribed because the original manuscripts had been destroyed.

The Mexican composer and arranger was a pioneer of precise, complex, somewhat bizarre yet eminently catchy tunes during the ‘50s and ‘60s that eventually made him a staple on the Las Vegas strip.

Esquivel's star rose again during the ‘90s when his music was rediscovered by younger generations as part of the retro lounge scene.

“The link between the musics is the undeniable creativity in the arrangements and performances,” Wong said. Added O’Neill, “We don’t feel that w’'re selling out by doing lame stuff. We take the exotica and Esquivel stuff as being very deep. When you start listening to the nuances, you hear how much there is under the skin.”

That said, good times aren’t far away when Waitiki takes the stage.

“I love everything about it, from the tiki artwork and visual designs to the jet-set stuff where you can escape and just have a cocktail,” said O’Neill. “It’s a way to have fun without it being a brainy experience.” - Boston Herald


Presenting "Exotica for Modern Living" - a new music series starting with 2 albums:

1) November 16, 2010: "The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel" (23pc big band tribute to Juan Garcia Esquivel, the king of space-age pop)

2) May 31, 2011: "Third River Rangoon" - exotica quartet presenting original third-stream exotica to preview/buy/listen



"...deliciously demented and entertaining in equal parts..." – The Wall Street Journal


"...may be one of the most inventive jazz groups running.."–BlogCritics (I Hear Sparks)

Referencing the exotica of Martin Denny, Milt Raskin,
Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich among others, Mr. Ho’s
Orchestrotica—as a vibraphone quartet—presents an original third-stream collection of updated jazz, chamber, and world music reaching towards the South Pacific via Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Latin America. Led by multi-percussionist, vibraphonist and composer Brian O’Neill (Mr. Ho) with bass flute/woodwinds (Geni Skendo), percussion (Noriko Terada), and acoustic bass (Jason Davis). While the Orchestrotica borrows some of mid-century exotica's sounds and instruments, the group mainly focuses on recreating the "escapism" that made it popular through new compositions and reinterpreting classical works with global sounds and improvisation.

The quartet’s debut CD, Third River Rangoon, ("...serious jazz and chamber music writing..."–Boston Herald) is part of the group's "Exotica for Modern Living" series, which started in November 2010 with the release of the group's big band CD. (see below)


"2011 Rising Star Big Band" - DOWNBEAT

For special events, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica swells to a 21-piece ensemble performing the space-age bachelor pad big band music of Juan Garcia Esquivel. Transcribed by ear and edited from the original recordings by Mr. Ho, this group is the only band on the planet who performs Esquivel's unique arrangements of mid-century jazz, dance, and pop music. This is the only group on the planet with a library of Esquivel's music.

Signed STARBUCKS licensing deal in 2011 for background music play. (via

“...incredible musicianship...” – Downbeat

“4 stars...exquisite attention to details...” – The Sunday Times London

“...a marvelously flexible unit...” – The Boston Globe

“...O'Neill may be in the long run, a stronger exoticist than John Zorn.” – AllAboutJazz